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Loss of the Kowloon Bridge

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Origins

Originally built under the name English Bridge by the shipbuilders Swan Hunter at their base on the River Tyne in northern England, she was one of six ships of the Bridge class. To describe the Bridge class as a success would be untrue as of the six built, two were lost, a poor survival rate at the best of times.

Her sister ship, Liverpool Bridge, renamed as the Derbyshire was lost with all hands under mysterious circumstances during Typhoon Orchid[1] 

Kowloon Bridge was originally called English Bridge, she went through a succession of name changes as the ship itself changed hands between owners; English Bridge, Worcestershire, Sunshine, Murcurio, Crystal Transporter and finally Kowloon Bridge, where the name would be indelibly linked with the ship.

She was constructed as a combination carrier, a design that allowed both 'wet' cargoes, such as oil and 'dry' cargoes such as iron ore, switching between cargoes as the demand for respective commodities grew and allowing the ship to carry multiple cargoes and not have empty legs of its journeys. 

Gross Tonnage was 89,438 and she was 294m long with a beam of 44m and a draft of 18m. One propeller provided a top speed of 15.5 knots.

Environmental damage

Within 24 hours of striking the rocks an oil slick was detected that was one and a half miles long and drifting Eastwards, blown by a Force 8 gale. 

What was released was bunker oil, a very crude form of oil and very polluting compared with other fuels. It is used primarily by the shipping industry as it is a cheap fuel that is suitable for the large engines used in marine powerplants. Bunker oil is literally the bottom of the barrel in the refinery process of oil; the thickest and most polluting elements that are left when other elements are refined out. This is what was spilling into the waters of West Cork.

The slick, carried by the prevailing wind and currents soon struck the coast doing tremendous damage to the environment in the local areas. By comparison to the bigger oil spills of the generation, such as the Exxon Valdez, the amount of oils spilled was measly, a 'meer' 2,000 tonnes versus 200,000 tonnes of the Exxon Valdez, but the damage was just as catastrophic for the smaller area. Wildlife such a birds and mammals such as seals & otters perished in large numbers and the herring season was ended effectively with catches having to be thrown back because of the contamination. 

Aside from the oil the bulk of the shipment, 160,000 tonnes of iron ore has spilled onto the sea bed. These pebble sized granules have been scattered over the general area surrounding the wreck but thankfully has had a much lesser polluting effect than that of the bunker oil, with only those flora and fauna directly below the ore being smothered. 

Wreck Location

The Stags
Credit: Patrick Lee [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Aftermath

The wreck is easily one of the largest in Europe based on the length of the ship being three football fields and has only recently been surpassed in terms of scale by the wreck of the Costa Concordia. This makes it popular with Scuba divers due to its massive size and relatively shallow depth. Due to the cavernous nature of the holds divers have been known to descend straight into them without realising they were near the wreck. The local ports of Baltimore and Union Hall are natural hubs for diving expeditions to the ship wreck, as well as many other interesting dive sites such as the site of U-260. Cork Airport is the closest airport, about an hours drive away from these dive centers. Unfortunately the wreck itself is a dangerous place to dive due to the strong currents that surge through the area and should only be tackled by experienced divers. Another subtle danger is that compasses do not work due to the ferrous nature of the sites contents. Consulting a local dive master knowledgeable in the wreck is the best course of action if diving on the site takes your fancy.

 The oil was cleaned up, dissipated into the sea or was consumed by bacteria. Oil still emerges from the wreck in small amounts and evidence of this oil and the old slick can still be found along the coast. 

The strong currents in the area have helped dismantle parts of the structure and the corrosive effect of the sea water has broken down the metal of the ship. Nature has taken its course and scattered the vast quantities of iron ore over the sea bed. Atlantic storms that caused the original damage to the ship on the surface continue to pound the wreck underwater and over time Nature will return it to its constituent parts. 

Wreck Location

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Bibliography

  1. "MV Derbyshire." Wikipedia. 4/03/2013 <Web >

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