The Worst Accident In Its History

Friday, 31st December 1954


A Greek owned (Stavros Niarchos, Onassis’ brother in law and competitor) oil tanker, the “World Peace”, smashed into an open swing bridge, blocking the strategic waterway more effectively than bombs did in World War II. By nightfall 70 ships were jammed up at the ends of the waterway. The Canal engineers estimated it might take until next Wednesday to get navigation started again. Seven ships were trapped inside the Canal.

The 10,892 tons tanker World Peace, under Liberian registry but owned by a Greek Company headed by the brother in law of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, veered into the open arms of the swing bridge while going through early Friday morning. First reports indicated the ship’s steering gear had jammed. One entire span of the bridge at El Firdan, nine miles north of Ismailia, became snagged on the superstructure of the World Peace and was carried 50 yards north of the bridge. There the span and tanker wedged themselves on to the west bank of the Canal.

The bridge is a double-spanned swing type with an opening of 197 feet. It was built by the British Army during the build-up for the Alamein campaign in North Africa during World War II to carry a rail road across the Canal. It has long been regarded as a menace to navigation, and at least two ship collisions have occurred there previously. It was to be scrapped in another month.

When the bridge is open the spans run north and south, parallel with the canal banks. The World Peace, when more than halfway through, apparently swung toward the west bank and hit one of the opened spans and carried it off the pier supports. The fact that the tanker was loaded with crude oil prevented the hundreds of workmen called from starting work immediately with acetylene torches to cut away the steel span.

Fire brigades hurried to the scene with orders to be ready to face the risk of an explosion. Although there were no casualties, the damage is described by the Suez Canal Company as “very serious”.

Three hundred more ships are on their way to the Canal. They have been warned by radio that they must go round the Cape of Good Hope or face delays while the wreckage is cleared.









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