Thursday, 8 October 2009

Amokura: the life of an unremarkable tanker

This is the story of the ship pictured on my blog's header - the motor tanker 'Amokura'.

She was an unremarkable tanker by most standards, but played formative part of my time at sea and development as a deck officer.

'Amokura' was built for Commons Brothers as 'Hindustan', at the Swan Hunter Yard in South Shields in 1976. She was Hull Number 91 from the Yard, IMO 7343346 and 32,240 deadweight tonnes. The rumour when my Company chartered her was that her original Owners had failed to complete her, and that the Yard had finished her with minimal expenditure. All of her deck and pumproom valves were manually operated. Her sister-ship, 'Kurdistan' was in the headlines when she broke in two in ice off Canada in 1979 while carrying heated bunker fuel. The bow section sank, while the stern was salvaged and rebuilt with a new bow.

I joined 'Amokura' as a 17-year old cadet in 1978, just after she had been chartered by an Oil Company consortium for service in the New Zealand coastal trade. She had been chartered to replace the tanker 'Athelviscount', a white-oiler with midship accommodation, which had reached scrapping age. Although 'Amokura' was built as a 'four grader', she was fitted with heating coils for the fuel oil trade and had been trading 'dirty' before repositioning to New Zealand. 'Amokura' was the Maori name for the bosun bird, and continued the tradition of naming the fleet after seabirds. My first job as cadet was to systematically cut off the steam coil valve chests, which were unceremoniously dumped over the side as each one was hacked into manageable chunks of piping and valves. During the mid-'80s she turned 'wide' entering the Port of Napier, and tore her hull open along three tanks against a wharf. The allision spilled hundred of tonnes of petrol into the harbour, miraculously there was no fire.

Over the course of 10 years, I sailed in her as Third, Second and First Officer. My wife Ali was introduced to the sea-going life on her, joining us for a dry-docking voyage as Supernumerary to Singapore as well as many coastal voyages during her university holidays. The photograph on my blog header came from the cover of the Tauranga Harbour Board's Annual Report.

In 1993, she had become outdated as more grades of fuels were introduced and shore tankage decreased. The Consortium made the decision to sell, she was delivered to new Owners in Sydney and renamed 'Transporter LT' . Over the following 14 years, she traded in products and then vegetable oils at 'Global Spirit', 'Global Spirit III' and then finally as 'Northsea'.

In early 2007, 'Northsea' was reported as being sold for demolition in India - an unsurprising end considering her age (31 years). However, in May 2007 after her apparent scrapping she was reported as a casualty in Lloyds List;

Northsea (Cambodian flag)
London, May 29 -- A distress message was received from product tanker Northsea, (18,682 gt, built 1976) at 0535, UTC, today in lat 04 44N, long 02 34E, following a fire on board. Seventeen of 32 crew have been accounted for. Crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit is in the area and crude oil tanker Astro Phoenix is proceeding to the area. Current condition of Northsea not known at the moment. Timed 0855, UTC: Toledo Spirit reports they have rescued 21 persons alive from Northsea and there are two fatalities. The vessel which is still afloat and is believed to have been struck by lightning.
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea, XUJF9, in ballast, is being attended by crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit in lat 04 44N, long 02 34E. Distress vessel is on fire. Toledo Spirit sighted vessel on fire and closed to investigate and has rescued 21 persons so far and has sighted two deceased still in the water, nine persons still unaccounted for. Oil rig supply vessel onscene searching. Crude oil tanker Astro Pheonix on scene shortly. Refrigerated general cargo Adriatic on scene 1200, UTC.
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea is now reported to be "burnt out." There were 29 persons on board of which 22 are alive, four are fatalities and three are missing. Twenty-one persons are now on board crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit, while one person, alive, and the four fatalities are on board offshore vessel Brago. The intention is for the 21 persons on board Toledo Spirit to be transferred to Brago which will then transfer all rescued persons and the fatalities to a sistership of Northsea, combined chemical and oil tanker April, which is en route from Ghana.
London, May 29 -- Northsea destroyed by fire and sinking. Offshore vessel Brago has recovered one crew memeber alive and four dead; three still missing.
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea: Crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit has transferred 21 survivors to offshore vessel Brago who is now proceeding towards combined chemical and oil tanker April to transfer 22 survivors and four deceased. Three crew members remain missing, including the master. Toledo Spirit confirms that a thorough search has been carried out to a radius of seven nautical miles from the casualty in good weather conditions. Toledo Spirit and crude oil tanker Astro Pheonix are now resuming original tasking. The vessel remains sinking in its original position. (See issue of May 30.)
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea. All survivors and deceased now transferred to supply vessel Brago who will meet the company vessel April for transfer ashore. Three crew members remain missing. The search is now terminated. All remaining search vessels may proceed in accordance with their previous orders with thanks for their efforts. All vessels transiting the area are to keep a sharp lookout. At 1530, UTC, Northsea was still on fire and submerged to her upperdeck level.
London, May 30 -- Product tanker Northsea: All survivors and deceased now transferred from supply Brago to combined chemical and oil tanker April. Search and rescue operations terminated at 0410, UTC, May 30.
London, May 31 -- Following received from the operators of product tanker Northsea, dated today: Northsea has now sunk. Three crew members remain missing.

It appeared that 'Northsea' had in fact cheated death on the beaches of Alang, and continued to trade in the West African ship-to-ship lightering business. With no inert gas system, the lightning strike on 'Northsea' ignited her cargo tanks and she sank after three days ablaze with the loss of seven of her crew. A remarkable end to an unremarkable ship.

The Antipodean Mariner


  1. Thanks for providing such a detailed account regarding the 'Hindustan' I sailed on her in 1977 as an Engineer Cadet and have great memories of that trip. I read on the Ships Nostalgia website about the accident and terrible loss of life, but not the same detail that you've provided. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks (belately) for the comment, she was a pretty good ship all in all.

  3. Does anyone have any photo's of when it collided wtb the warf at port very interested in see those.a friend of mine was 2nd chef onboard at that time.thanx for yr time adrienne