Saturday, September 19, 2009

The sinking of TT Seven Skies

TT SEVEN SKIES was originally named the TT MALMOIL and was built in 1965 by Odense Staalskips A / S, Lindo, Denmark. She was equipped at Kockums Mechanical Engineering Ltd, Malmo, Sweden.

She was one of four sister ships the others being the SEVEN SEAS the SEVEN STARS and the MALMÖHUS.

Note: She is some times confused with the MT SEVEN SKIES built in 1957 and scrapped in 1988.

Seven Stars 1967

Seven Stars 1967

Seven Seas 1967

Malmohus 1965

Malmohus 1965

Malmohus 1965

She was a 261.21 x 39.00 x 18.10 m 97,950 DWT vessel equipped with two Kockums Stal Laval 22,500 HP steam turbines producing a top speed of 16 Knots.

She was originally ordered by Rederi Ab Malmoil, Malmo Sweden. The hull was launched on the 18th April 1965 in Denmark and sold to Salén Rederi AB, Stockholm in June 1965. On 30th December 1965 she was delivered to Salén as the SEVEN SKIES and in 1969 she was transferred to Rederi AB Pulp, Stockholm.

Seven Skies 1965

The sinking
Monday 6th October 1969.

The TT SEVEN SKIES was cruising through the South China Seas approximately 220 miles North East of Singapore en route from Japan to Indonesia and Dubai. The weather was clear and the sea flat calm.

At 7:30am the Norwegian chief engineer Svein Arnulf Nielsen (36) was in the engine room when the vessel was rocked by a massive explosion somewhere nearby. He was seriously injured receiving a fractured skull, broken bones and burns but he later reported:

"There was no time to think about anything else than to rush out of the fire that was all around me. Then I noticed that water was pouring into the ship. Confusion erupted when the ship was thrown back and forth by the powerful explosion.”

The ships Captain Otto Ferdinand Henning from Oskarshamn, Sweden reported:

” I was just eating breakfast. Suddenly I heard a bang. At first I thought it was a collision. The ship sank so quickly that we had no time to send SOS signals, but we were in a very busy waterway and other vessels responded immediately.”

Bjorn Edholm was an electrician aboard below are his notes on the incident written on letterhead from the Queen's Hotel in Singapore:

"06.30 Shaved and bathed and checked the temperature (+28 degrees) on the pier and looked out on the deck. All quiet and calm.

07.10 went into my cabin, put on the radio and began to read a book.

07.25 was thrown out of the chair onto the floor then back up again and again. All black, had no lights on and through the port holes was no light.

I left my cabin and opened the door to the deck, but closed it again. Everything was just smoke, fire (no flames, but red light) and water. An engineer came and opened the door and when through when it had calmed down somewhat, two engineers also went through before before I went out. Climbed to C-deck (I dared not try the bottom of the poop-deck). I found a Lifebelt and took the ladder down to B deck. The ship was listing about 45 degrees by now. The time was approximately 1-2 minutes after the explosion. I waited up on the railing for a short while to see if we were still sinking. The movement seemed to have subsided as she was rocking more before.

From where I stood I could see the back tyres were in the water and they seemed to float. I could see nothing of the tank deck. The Portside bridge wing was in the water and a lifeboat was at the port wing, including a mate in the boat. It was burning heavily on the starboard side.

When it looked as if we were not going to sink so suddenly I began to climb again with the help of the railing down to the height of the door of the machine room and jumped from there into the water astern of the port bridge wing and swam up to the lifeboat and was helped into it. It was almost full with water and oil. It was almost impossible to get a foothold on the slippery oil. We pulled up all that were on the port side of the boat and used a life raft that had unfurled itself to help rescue those in the water.

We tried to row away from the Seven Skies so we would not be drawn down with her when she sank. It was almost impossible to grasp the oars and put any force behind the stroke because everyone and everything was covered with black oil. We managed to get free from the hull in time, it sank 15 minutes after the explosion.

We picked up four other crew in the water and around 08.45 we were rescued by a Japanese fishing boat / trawler named Myojo Maru, where we could refresh ourselves, wash most of the oil off and were given coffee and sandwiches, while they continued looking for more missing."

Stoker Harry Lundgren said:

"Most of us were asleep when the explosion occurred. We had to throw ourselves into the sea. We could not think of what happened we just grabbed a life-vest and ran out on deck. We had time to launch a lifeboat before the ship sank but most of the crew were jumping into the sea among the floating wreckage and sticky oil."

For crew man Olle Jonsson it was a particularly bizarre experience:

"I had just risen and I only had a towel wrapped around my hips when the ship shook with the blast. Someone threw a life-vest for me and the next moment I was in the water, naked!

When I stuck my head up out of the water it felt as if someone had painted my face with oil. The towel was gone. The guys on the Japanese fishing boat were a little bit surprised when they pulled out a naked man covered in oil."

The ship sank rapidly, but within 20 minutes the 32 surviving crew members had been picked up by the Japanese fishing vessel MYOJYO MARU which was nearby at the time and transferred to the British cargo vessel ARCTIC OCEAN which transported them to Singapore. The severely injured engineer was flown to Singapore by British Air Force Helicopter.

The Japanese fishing vessel and another Japanese cargo ship continued to search for the missing four crew for hours but only found an empty survival raft. Aircraft and helicopters from the British Navy also helped in the rescue work.

The four crewmen killed were:
• Stig Gunnar Gote Lindblad (44), Telegraph clerk, Malmö, Sweden;
• Gunnar Filip Wallberg (54), Finance Director, Solna, Sweden;
• Bjorn Pettersson (25), Repairer, Lidingö, Sweden; and
• Dicky Mamangkey, Stoker, Indonesia.

Singapore 1969

The surviving crew members stayed in the luxury Queen's Hotel in Singapore, but they arrived wearing only underwear and work clothes which in the tropics meant nothing more than shorts. Hotel staff had not been warned that the guest were shipwrecked and were shocked when the scantily clad and dirty crowd walked in and shortly afterward the Hotel's tailor experienced a boom in trade in his little shop.

At the time of her sinking the vessel had an estimated value of between 45 and 60 million Kronor and was insured for 50 million Kronor. Making her one of the most expensive disasters ever at the time.

Salén Shipping Lines flew technical inspectors to Singapore to investigate the incident yet to this day mystery surrounds the actual cause of the sinking. The vessel was under charter by the Japanese oil company Idemitsu Kason to transport crude oil but was empty at the time of the sinking. Empty vessels are more prone to explosions given the technical difficulties of cleaning the storage tanks and the fact that Crude oil contains all the various oil fractions that can build up a highly flammable explosive mixture of air and oil vapours.

The potential source of the ignition was speculated to be repairman Bjorn Pettersson who was welding on the deck. He had barely begun work when the ship exploded killing him instantly. According to the inspector's findings, he was also the only one who did not manage to throw themselves into the water. The other three crew men who were killed were drowned.

An alternative ’conspiracy theory’ fuelled by Salén Lines attempts to avoid negative publicity by keeping the crew away from the press suggested that the SEVEN SKIES may have collided with another vessel, perhaps even a submarine or an old WWII mine. This however seems unlikely given that no other wreckage was found, and none of the rescue vessels reported seeing any any other vessels in the vicinity at the time of the explosion. Furthermore, the SEVEN SKIES sank in approximately 15 minutes which is consistent with previous tanker disasters where a gas explosions practically tear the ship apart.

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