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The Halifax explosion: The naval accident that erased an entire city in Canada, 1917

 

It was a bang that was heard around the world. The news of what happened when two ships collided in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917, made headlines around the world. During the war there were accidents in the busy ports and life went on. But this time things were different.

One of the ships involved in the collision was the Norwegian battle-relief ship SS Imo. The second was the SS Mont-Blanc, a rusted French tramp steamer loaded with gunwale with high explosives, approximately 3,000 tons of picric acid, TNT, and gun cotton, while piled high on her deck were hundreds of barrels of high-octane benzole. . fuel.

Mont-Blanc was a floating bomb. As an experienced Royal Navy officer would later marvel, "I am surprised that the people on the ship did not leave in a body when they saw the nature of the cargo it was ordered to carry".

The chain of events that collided Imo and Mont-Blanc was as improbable as it was bizarre. It defied logic. The weather was clear and pleasant. The sea was calm. Experienced port pilots were guiding each ship. The two captains involved were experienced sailors.


The Norwegian ship, under the command of the SS Imo Haakon Fromm, was en route from the Netherlands to New York to collect relief supplies for Belgium.

The ship arrived in Halifax on 3 December for neutral inspection and spent two days in Bedford Basin awaiting refueling supplies. Although she was cleared to leave port on 5 December, Imo's departure was delayed as her coal load had not arrived until that afternoon.

The French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc arrived from New York at the end of 5 December under the command of me le Médec. She intended to join a slow convoy gathering in the Bedford Basin, ready to depart for Europe, but it was too late to enter port before the net was raised.

Prior to the war ships carrying dangerous goods were not allowed into the port, but the rules were relaxed as a result of the risks posed by German submarines.

Navigating into or out of Bedford Basin requires passing through a strait called the Narrows. Ships were expected to stay close to the edge of the channel on their starboard ("right"), and pass "port to port" to incoming ships, i.e. keep them on their "left" side. Ships within the port were restricted to a speed of 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph).


Shortly before 9:00 a.m., Imo exited Halifax Harbor and found itself on a collision course with Mont-Blanc. After exchanging warning signals, the two ships had their engines cut off, but their speed caused them to move right on top of each other at a slower rate.

Unable to land his ship for fear of a blow that would set off his explosive cargo, Mackay (an experienced port pilot) ordered Mont-Blanc to work hard on the port (starboard hull) and final- In the second bid crossed Emo's bow. To avoid collision.

The two ships were almost parallel to each other when Imo suddenly sent out three signal explosions, indicating that the ship was reversing its engines.

The combination of the height of the cargoless ship in the water and the transverse thrust of its right-hand propeller caused the ship's head to swing at Mont-Blanc. Emo's Prov was pushed to his starboard side in the No. 1 hold on Mont Blanc.

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