On 12 October 1978, at 2:15 pm, an explosion occurred on the Greek tanker, S. T. Spyros, whilst the vessel was undergoing repairs at Jurong Shipyard, causing a fire and leading to 76 dead and 69 injured.
The S. T. Spyros was owned by Ulysses Tanker Corporation of Liberia and operated by International Operations, S A. The Liberian-registered vessel was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan in 1964 and it is a steam turbine-driven tanker of 64,081 tons deadweight.
On 6 October 1978, S. T. Spyros arrived in Singapore for a full special survey and general repairs at Jurong Shipyard. One of the items for repair was the replacement of the missing cover for the drip tray of the vent pipe leading from the aft starboard fuel oil tank.
Sparks from the cutting torch used during repairs, caused a fire which ignited an explosive vapour mixture within the aft starboard bunker tank of the vessel. The fuel tank had been contaminated by crude oil. The explosion ruptured the common bulkhead between the tank and the engine room, releasing the burning oil into the engine room and setting it on fire, killing the workers there instantly.
Of those working on board the vessel, 76 people were killed and 69 others injured. Of the victims who died from burns, some bodies were charred while most died from flash burns, the intense heat of approximately 3,000 degrees centigrade sloughing off their underlying skin. Others died from suffocation after inhaling hot toxic fumes or from carbon monoxide poisoning. At least two people drowned in oil. A full list of the deceased, dates and causes of death is appended to the Inquiry Report.
A Committee of Inquiry chaired by Senior District Judge, Michael Khoo Kah Lip was set up to explore the cause of the fire. Organised labour, led by NTUC Secretary-General, C. V. Devan Nair, expressed outrage at the tragedy because it was the third major mishap at Jurong Shipyard since 1972. The Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Labour), Fong Sip Chee, felt equally disgusted. Both the trade unions and the government lobbied and campaigned vigorously for greater safety consciousness in the shipbuilding and repairing industry.
Tan Lay Yuen
Committee of Inquiry into the Explosion and Fire on Board S.T. Spyros. (1979). The explosion and fire on board S.T. Spyros, 12th October 1978: The inquiry report. Singapore : Ministry of Labour.
(Call no.: RSING 623.83 SIN)
Call to step up safety measures at shipyards, (1978, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 7.
Grief turns to anger. (1978, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 1.
Jansen, P., Joseph, G., & Lee, T. S. (1978, October 13). 48 die in ship blast horror. The Straits Times, p. 1.
Safety: Devan's 'no work' warning. (1978, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 1.
A mother prays for the life of her son....(1978, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 27.
Above and beyond the call of duty....(1978, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 12.
At the disaster scene, faces of shock and grief...and even trace of fear among the survivors. (1978, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 26.
Biggest problem: Finding out who is who....(1978, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 8.
Education fund for disaster victims' children. (1978, October 16). The Straits Times, p. 1.
Hundreds join rush to give blood to injured. (1978, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 13.
Jurong has worst record. (1978, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 13.
Punish the guilty: Devan. (1978, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 12.
Shipyard bosses were warned only 2 weeks ago. (1978, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 27.
The long queue at the morgue to identify the dead. (1978, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 12.
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.