AT DARA'S WRECK...FORTY YEARS ON
decades after the sinking of BI's 4,465 dwt Dara, John Crossman
was present as the Dara Wreck buoy off Umm al Qaiwain was lifted
for maintenance by the Middle East Navigation Aids Service. This
is his account.
ON April 7,
1961, when the BI passenger/cargo liner Dara was discharging cargo
and passengers at Dubai, a sudden storm blew up making it necessary
for the ship to leave harbour to ride out the gale at sea.
Dara* was one
of four BI D-class ships built at yards in the the UK after World
War II. Now the ship, which had been delivered 13 years earlier
by Barclay, Curle was running BI's successful Bombay-Gulf passenger
to port next morning the ship was shaken
by an explosion at 0440, followed by a fire which swept through the
of the lifeboats were capsized in the ensuing scramble to escape and,
in spite of there being several other ships nearby to assist in the
rescue, 238 passengers, crew and Dubai shore staff died out of a complement
The fire was
brought under control by naval parties, and the ship was taken in
tow, but she sank at 0920 on April 10. Terrorist action was believed
to have caused the explosion but nothing could be proved.
Forty years later,
shortly after sunrise on the morning of St Valentine's Day 2001, at
a position twenty miles north of Dubai and four miles offshore from
Umm al Qaiwain, I watched the Middle East Navigation Aids Service
(MENAS) light tender Relume
lift on to her deck the yellow and black painted navigation buoy (pictured
here on the foredeck) marking the wreck of Dara for cleaning and painting,
and to check that the flashing light was in good working order and
the buoy's mooring was in good condition.
making one of her regular rounds of the Arabian Gulf to check, maintain,
refurbish and replace some of the hundreds of navigation aids maintained
by MENAS to ensure the safety of shipping in these waters.
The depth of
water around the Dara wreck is about 100 feet (30.4 m), and with
some parts of the wreck only a few feet below the surface it presents
a serious danger to shipping in the area where there is much traffic
serving the several ports nearby. It
is important, therefore, that the buoy to guide shipping clear of
this danger is checked regularly and kept in good condition.
On this occasion,
apart from a general cleanup and a coat of paint there was nothing
that had to be done to the buoy, but part of the mooring chain had
worn in excess of permitted limits and had to be replaced, for which
some of Relume's old anchor cable was found to be a satisfactory
It took about
an hour to complete the service of the Dara Wreck buoy and for the
first part of the process Relume's captain, Captain Nick Dodson, ordered
the ship's work-boat to be launched so that I could take photographs
from the boat of the buoy being lifted out of the water.
work on the Dara bouy is typical of the maintenance undertaken by
Relume (pictured right, handling the Dara buoy) on navaids in the
Arabian Gulf. After a thorough check of a buoy's structure, its
moorings and its equipment, the refurbished navaid is lifted from
the deck, returned to the water and its position checked using MENAS'
Gulf-wide differential GPS system.
goes about her work, Dara rests on the seabed, another example of
the great irony of marine tragedy: That the ships that are lost
are the ones that survive.
Crossman, a former P&O main board director, joined the board
of MENAS in 1993. The organisation,
whose members include P&O, BP Amoco, Caltex, Emirates Oil Company,
Mobil, Shell and United Arab Shipping Company, operates more than
500 navigational aids from the coast of Oman to the northern end
of the Gulf.
article is reproduced with kind permision of the editor of Wavelength
magazine, in which it first appeared, and the author.
pictures were taken at the scene from Barpeta, one
of the vessels standing by during the incident. They are
reproduced from 35mm transparencies with kind permission
of Gary Ruaux, who was 3rd Officer in Barpeta. Barpeta
was on her maiden voyage from Australia to The Gulf at
operations were led by the landing ship Empire Guillemot
(which came under BI management in the month after the
Some of the naval vessels attending.
Laffey manoeuvred alongside the wreck to fight fires and
check for survivors. While alongside, Dara began listing
towards Laffey causing some damage and forcing Laffey
to move away.
fire-fighting party sent by boat continued to fight the fire
until noon on April 9, when Laffey was ordered to withdraw.
fire just about out, a boat approaches Dara's stern
in 1948, Dara had a passenger capacity of 1,451 and 5,000 cu ft
of refrigerated space. A single Doxford diesel engine gave a trials
speed of 15.4 knots. Between them, she and her sisterships, Dumra,
Dwarka and Daressa, maintained the famed BI Gulf service from 1946
until 1982, when the only remaining vessel of the quartet, Dwarka,
was sold for demolition. She was the last ship in regular service
wearing BI livery.
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