Incident directory

1951 - RFA Bedenham

27/04/1951

Country:

UK

  • Ship/ Maritime Incidents

Severity:

Fatal

Description

Date of event

27th April 1951.             

Time of event

Approximately 09:54 (INITIAL CALL)

Name of premises

Lighter Number 10 and The RFA Bedenham

Location

No. 39 berth at Ordnance Wharf (AKA Gun Wharf), Gibraltar Dockyard, Gibraltar.

Service area

Gibraltar Fire Brigade.

Nature of incident

Fire and explosion.

Property type

Ship.

Premises use

Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel used to supply armaments of approximately 1191 gross tonnes and 70m in length.

Construction type and materials

Steel frame and plate.

Occupancy

Ships crew and dockyard workers at time of incident.

Fire source and location of fire

Accidental ignition of depth charges on-board a lighter vessel (Lighter number 10) tied alongside RFA Bedenham and then subsequent fire and further massive explosion.

Synopsis

Brief Synopsis

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Bedenham arrived in Gibraltar on the 24th April 1951 having loaded at Bull Point Naval Armaments Depot, Plymouth with approximately 790 tons of depth charges, ammunition and other ordnance destined for Gibraltar and Malta. When berthed at No. 39 berth, Ordnance Wharf, the cargo was unloaded onto the wharf and onto No. 10 lighter vessel that was moored on the RFA Bedenham’ s port (outboard) side. (It was not clear how many lighter vessels were used or if only lighter No. 10 was used during the RFA Bedenham’s time at Gibraltar before the explosion). Loading of other ammunition into RFA Bedenham’s No. 2 hold, destined for Malta, was also simultaneously carried out (GFRS unknown date & Garcia, 2015).

Standard fire precautions on-board at the time for the loading and unloading of ammunition included having hoses rigged and laid out on the deck, however it took time for the on-board fire pump to create an effective pressure (estimated to be between ½ to 4 minutes) when required. A charged hose was also laid out on the wharf at the ready however the jet from this (estimated with a 15 ft length) was said ‘not to be powerful enough to reach the lighter’.

On the morning of the 27th April at approximately 09:54 an explosion occurred on-board lighter No. 10 while a hoist of depth charges, containing Torpex, was being transferred. The initial explosion had alerted the whole dockyard. The Dockyard Fire Brigade (military) and the local Gibraltar Fire Brigade (civilian) attended. The lighter had quickly caught fire from bow to stern and after the initial explosion the master of the RFA Bedenham had ordered ‘water on deck’. None of the hoses from the RFA Bedenham were initially able to be used due to the intensity of the fire on-board the lighter vessel. The jet from the wharf hose did not reach the fire (GFRS unknown date & Garcia, 2015).

At approximately 09:57 an order was given to ‘take cover’, due to the belief that a major explosion was going to take place. A Sub Officer from the Dockyard Fire Brigade ignored the order and continued to direct a jet from RFA Bedenham that had been established, onto the fire. Approximately 6 minutes later there was a major explosion as lighter No 10 blew up. The force of the explosion essentially blew the RFA Bedenham into 2 pieces only held together by the electrical cabling. The bow of the RFA Bedenham was thrown out of the water and onto the quayside. A Dockyard Fire Brigade Sub Officer and The Chief Fire Officer along with 11 other persons were all killed by the explosion. Many others were also injured (GFRS unknown date & Garcia, 2015).

It was stated that debris from the explosion had been blown up to 1½ miles from the site of the main explosion.

Photo 1

Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Photo 2

RFA Bedenham at another time before the incident. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Photo 3

RFA Bedenham and lighter on fire before main explosion. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Photo 4

Image from www.historicalrfa.org, unknown date.

 Photo 5

The image above was taken some time after the explosion and shows the RFA Sea Salvor engaged in salvage work on the remains of the FRA Bedenham. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Photo 6

Part of the vessel was blown into the dockside with part remaining in the water. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Photo 7

Part of the vessel was blown into the dockside with part remaining in the water. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Photo 8

Part of the vessel was blown into the dockside with part remaining in the water. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

 Photo 9

Part of the vessel was blown into the dockside with part remaining in the water. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

 Photo 10

Part of the vessel was blown into the dockside with part remaining in the water. Courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre.

Main findings, key lessons & areas for learning

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Fire & Rescue Service summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

FBU summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Other report summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

IFE Commentary & lessons if applicable

None produced at this time.

Known available source documents

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

FRS Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

FBU Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Incident Report/s and/or improvement notices

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Local Police Service or Constabulary Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Ambulance Service Incident Report

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Building Research Establishment (BRE) Reports/investigations/research

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.  

Coroner’s report/s and/or regulation 28 notices

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Other information sources

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS). (unknown date). The NAV Bedenham explosion.  [online]. Available at http://www.gibfire.gi/home/about-us/the-nav-bedenham-explosion/ [Accessed 21st September 2016].

Garcia, R. (2015). A tradition of service 150 years of the Gibraltar fire service. Gibraltar. Gibraltar Fire Service.

www.historicalrfa.org. (unknown date). RFA Bedenham. [online]. Available at http://www.historicalrfa.org/rfa-bedenham-ship-information [Accessed 21st September 2016].

Wikipedia. (unknown date). Explosion of the RFA Bedenham. [online]. Available at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explosion_of_the_RFA_Bedenham [Accessed 15th October 2016].

Unknown newspaper article, donated by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre. (circa 1951). Ammunition ship explodes at Gibraltar. [jpeg]. [Accessed 7th October 2016].

Photo 11

Service learning material

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Videos available

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

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