Mississippi River, LA (near New Orleans) Tankers Collide, Apr 1926

COLLISION AND EXPLOSIONS TAKE HEAVY TOLL.

TWO OIL SHIPS CRASH; ONE TANKER BLOWS UP; DEATH LIST NOT KNOWN.

New Orleans, La., April 8. -- (AP) -- Authorities tonight were attempting to determine the number of lives lost in the two explosions tonight aboard two tank steamers in the Mississippi River. First reports indicated that the two disasters took a toll of more than two score lives.
What appeared to be the most serious of two tragic accidents occurred tonight at a point forty miles below New Orleans, when a vessel believed to be the Dutch steamer Silvanus collided with the Standard Oil tanker Thomas H. Wheeler. Thirty-five members of a crew of fifty of the Dutch boat were said to be missing. The Dutch vessel's cargo is believed here to have exploded following the impact with the other tanker.
Five members of the crew of the Standard Oil tanker O. T. Waring were missing tonight as a result of a series of explosion aboard the vessel in a dry dock here today. Twenty-nine others of a crew of 200 were injured.
Newspaper men were rushing to Plaquemine Parish by land and water tonight to obtain details of the collision between the two vessels. Information received in New Orleans indicated that some fifteen injured men had been removed to a hospital in Point A La Hache and that others were being rescued from the water at the scene of the disaster.
The five men missing from the O. T. Waring, all of whom were from New Orleans, are:
EDWARD BALSER, JOSEPH REISS, E. T. BAYMI, MANUEL AUVINE, PERRY LAURIER.
These men were officially known to be missing. Members of the family of SIDER ROTH, another seaman known to have been aboard the vessel when the blasts rocket it, reported late tonight that they were unable to locate him.
A. M. JOHNSON and CARL WEST, seamen, injured in the explosions, were in a critical condition in a local hospital tonight.
Confirmation of the collision between the Silvanus and Thomas H. Wheeler was obtained in Baton Rouge from C. I. Fiore, general manager of the Standard Oil Company plant there. The Thomas H. Wheeler was due to arrive in the Standard's docks in Baton Rouge tomorrow from Texas City. Captain McKENZIE is in command.
Captain J. E. LAND, an official of the Standard Oil Company in Baton Rouge, who was in New Orleans when he heard of the disaster, left the Crescent City tonight to conduct an investigation.
Later dispatches from the Tropical Radio Company
reported that the muster and pilot of the Silvanus were rescued from the river after the collision by the crew of the American steamship Topa Topa. The Topa Topa was on its way to Avonmouth when it halted to aid the damaged vessels.
With the exception of the master, pilot, second and fourth engineers, all members of the crew of the Silvanus taken from the Mississippi River were Chinese sailors. Several of those injured were on their way to New Orleans to obtain medical attention.
For several miles the river was literally ablaze with benzine, which covered the water immediately after the vessels struck each other. The Silvanus was moving south and the Thomas H. Wheeler north when the boats jammed together.
Meanwhile wild stories of confusion and mangled bodies lying on the deck of the O.T. Waring following the explosion aboard that vessel went the rounds of the wharf. Wives and relatives of the seamen crowded the docks and awaited news of their loved ones. Fire engines roared and dashed about, orders were shouted and small boats ducked in and out of the stern and bow of the larger vessel.
The first explosion occurred about 2 o'clock this afternoon in the after part of the ship about three hours after it had been placed in the Jahneke dry dock. Three intonations followed the first in quick succession, and the fifth sounded about thirty minutes later. Flames leaped through the holds and mounted as high as the stack. Great clouds of smoke arose.
The general firm alarm was sounded and in a few minutes two fire tugs arrived.
The British ship Manx Isle of Liverpool, lying near the O. T. Waring, was damaged by flames which destroyed the wheel-house, burned the boat deck and consumed piles of rope. The Manx Isle was towed into midstream to avert further disaster.
Several sailors leaped from the deck into the river.
No sooner had they struck the water than fire reached the oil and encircled them. However, they were little burned, since splashing with their hands they threw the oil back and kept themselves in clear water. The blasts were so severe that workmen on the dock beneath the ship were knocked down. After the fifth and final shock, the sides of the ship bulged outward. The vessel was valued at $800,000.
The extent of the damage could not be determined
tonight and the amount of insurance carried was not ascertained. Experts in commenting upon the causes of the explosion said that oil gases may have accumulated in the tanks. New rivets were being installed at the time.
Latere information obtained from the scene of the collision was to the effect that the benzine cargo of the Silvanus caught fire when the ships collided.
The Silvanus was reported to have burned to the water's edge. The flames spread to the Thomas H. Wheeler. The crew of that boat succeded in preventing the fire from destroying all of its cargo and beached the ship.
The Silvanus had a tonnage of 3,278. The gross tonnage of the O.T. Waring was 5,579 and the net tonnage 3,379.
The steamer Gulfcoast was reported en route to New Orleans tonight with a party of injured.

Galveston Daily News Texas 1926-04-09

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NO YELLOW IN OIL SHIPS CREW.

FOUGHT FIRE LIKE DEVILS AND FINALLY PUT IT OUT.

BELIEVED 23 SAILORS DIED IN MISSISSIPPI DISASTER; BOTH CAPTAINS TELL EXPERIENCES.

New Orleans, La., April 9. -- (AP) -- Grounded in the Mississippi River about forty-five miles below New Orleans, the Dutch tanker Silvanus, which was rocked by explosions last night after it collided with the Standard Oil tank steamer THomas H. Wheeler, tonight was still burning. Seamen of several tugs continued to fight the flames, which are believed to have cause the death of twenty-three sailors.
While circumstances surrounding this river tragedy were being probed by federal and steamship officials, searchers were seeking the bodies of five men officially missing since a series of explosions occurred here yesterday aboard the steamer O.T. Waring, another Standard Oil tanker.
ADOLPH M. JOHNSON, of New Orleans, an electrician, died in a hospital here tonight of injuries received in this disaster. One man injured aboard the O.T. Waring remained in a critical condition tonight and forty-four others were suffering from hurts not expected to cause loss of life.
Damage caused in the series of river disasters is conservatively estimated at $3,000,000. About two-thirds of this amount will probably be borne by the owners of the Silvanus.
Her stern upstream, the ill fated Dutch tanker continued to pour gasoline from the torn seams of her bow, feeding a fan-shaped blanket of flames to the Mississippi River. The intense heat of the blaze which enveloped her prow made it impossible for tugs to approach that end of the boat. Attempts to drive the fire from the benzine tanks were unsuccessful.
After the blaze had been driven from the after half of the Silvanus, workers ventured into the cabins and the hole at the stern in search of bodies. None
were found, the supposition being that the bodies of any men trapped in that portion of the ship were turned into ashes.
Twenty of a crew of forty-five of the Silvanus were definitely known to be safe tonight. Sixteen of those alive are Chinese.
None of the members of the crew of the THomas H. Wheeler was seriously injured. The damage to that ship was comparatively slight.
The Thomas H. Wheeler, bound up the river with a cargo of crude oil, had slowed down to anchor because of a fog when she collided with the Silvanus, Captain L. S. MacKENZIE declared tonight.
"We were moving up the river close to the east bank," the master said. "There was a fog and we were about to anchor. The engines were running slow and the ship had nearly lost headway. Suddenly we heard four sharp whistles, meaning danger. Then there were three short ones, meaning full speed ahead. Then through the mist I saw the lights of another ship which was coming at us diagonally. We hit her aft of the forecastle and bent out bow."
"Flames broke out, covering both my ship and the Silvanus. We broke away. Oil from the Silvanus had splattered over the Wheeler and the fire on our own vessel might have been disastrous. The crew fought like devils. We were close to the shore and members of the crew might have jumped overboard, but not a one of them did. There weren't any yellow streaks. They fought the fire and finally put it out. If they hadn't fought like that we might have been blown up."
"For a while we were in a ring of fire, but as the vessels drifted apart, we got out of the water which was covered by flames, and then we were able to put out our own fire."
Captain J.P.M. VISSER of the Silvanus, in an infirmary here with his face burned, exhibited greater interest in the pending investigations than in his wounds.
"The investigation will clear this up,: asserted the master of the Dutch tanker. "It will show which vessel was responsible. I am glad that the steamship Topa Topa was near us. The officers of than ship know whether the Silvanus was off its course or not. I am very, very sorry that Captain SIMPSON, the river pilot, is missing. It is bad for his family and it is bad that we can't have him with us to tell just exactly what happened."
"The Silvanus was moving down the river a short distance behind the steamship Topa Topa. Both ships were well over toward the west bank, but the Silvanus was a little further out. I was on the bridge near the pilot. The third officer was on duty. When I first saw the Thomas H. Wheeler coming up the river, she seemed to be on her topmast lights. I caught sight of her port (red) light and everything seemed all right. A low fog came up rather suddenly and the lights faded a little, but I could still see the topmast lights. But, as everything appeared all right, I didn't pay much attention. I didn't notice that the arm of the lights was changing, which would indicate that the ship was turning outward into the river, until the ship was almost upon us."
"The bow of the Thomas H. Wheeler came out of the mist, striking us directly back of the forecastle. As she rammed into my ship, the sparks flew. There was a concussion that sounded like a muffled explosion and a great blaze shot upward. I never saw a fire come on quickly. I saw at once that there was nothing that could be done. There was too much fire. I hurried from the bridge to where I could see aft. Already the vessel was ablaze aft as well as forward. I never saw such a fire. There was no smoke, but a tremendous blaze shooting to the sky. Benzine makes a terribly hot fire."
"It all happened in a moment. I saw there was nothing to do except jump. Not even time to get a life belt. So I jumped into the river and all the others who had a chance did the same thing. The
benzine, which had floated out on the water, was afire and it was hot. I swam and swam. My Marconi operator LUDOWEIZ was swimming not far from me. We swam a long time. He called to me: 'I can't go much more, captain. I can't. I can't."
"I said back to him, 'Come on, keep going, don't give up," but that is the last I heard from him. He was 24 years old."
"I must have been swimming the wrong way or going around and around, for I am sure I was in the water about an hour. I was on the point of collapsing when a boat picked me up. The Silvanus was a good ship and a new one. I hate to think of how so many of the crew were burned to death and drowned. Most of them didn't have a chance."

Galveston Daily News Texas 1926-04-10