Anything Can Happen At Sea!

By TASC Member Tom Purvis (River Tyne Pilot Retired)

In February 1966, I was 4th mate on the Mobil Transporter (yes Mobil Oil carried 4 mates??). She was a 35,000 ton crude oil carrier and we were to discharge at a SPM (that’s single point mooring) off Fiumicino, the port for Rome. The SPM is a dolphin construction with a roller fairlead to which you make fast with 3 bites of rope from the foc’sle head. Critically this meant 2 of the bites were on the same set of bollards. A floating pipeline ran from the SPM and attached as normal to the manifold.

We had just completed discharge, totally empty with the forefoot clear of the water, when we felt the full force of the mistral blowing at force 8-10. So rapid was the blow we never had time to ballast and the order was given to let go immediately. In the panic the 2nd mate on the foc’sle let go the single rope on its own bollard which meant letting go the second rope which put all the weight onto one rope.

These were ployprop ropes which gave no warning of parting unlike a sisal type rope which starts to shred before parting. You guessed the rope parted and completely severed the Serang’s leg above the knee. However although you get no warning with a polyprop as they expand they generate enormous heat and a top class hospital doctor could not have done a better job, virtually no blood or tearing of the flesh.

Chaos followed including the emergency helicopter’s winch jamming, which meant it had to return to base to free same!! Eventually we cleared the berth got some ballast in and proceeded on our way. The 2nd mate was now on the bridge and a full blow by blow account of the disaster was recalled, the ‘old man’ turned to him and said what happened to the Serang’s leg…..”Well, it was no use to him anymore so I threw it over the side!!

An immediate cable was sent to the coastguard…..“If anyone reports finding a leg on the beach, it’s OK, we know who it belongs to!”