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The Bombay Explosion occurred on 14 April, 1944, in the Victoria Dock of Bombay, India (which is now known as Mumbai).  The accident occurred when the SS Fort Stikine caught on fire.  The ship was carrying a cargo of cotton, gold, and ammunition, including 1,400 tons of explosives.  The fire broke out in the SS Fort Stikine’s No. 2 hold at about 14:00 and efforts to extinguish it proved futile.  Two explosions, at 16:06 and 16:34 respectively, spread fire and debris over about two square miles.  The twin blasts killed 740 people, injured about 1,800 others, and sank or damaged 27 other vessels in Victoria Dock and neighboring Prince’s Dock.

The SS Fort Stikine, Her Final Voyage, and Her Cargo

The SS Fort Stikine was a 7142 gross ton freighter.  She was built in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, in 1942, under a lend-lease agreement.  She was named for Fort Stikine, which was once an outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company located at Wrangell, Alaska, USA.  She sailed from Birkenhead on 24 February 1944 via Gibraltar, Port Said and Karachi.  She arrived in Bombay on 12 April 1944.


Her cargo included explosives and munitions, Spitfires, bales of raw cotton, oil barrels, timber, scrap iron, and gold bullion in 12.73 kg bars valued at between one and two million GBP.


SS Fort Stikine was berthed and waiting to be unloaded on 14 April 1944 when fire broke out in her No. 2 hold.

Explosion

Crew became aware of a fire in the SS Fort Stikine’s No. 2 hold around 14:00 on 14 April 1944.  Crew members, dockside fire teams and fireboats worked to extinguish the flames, but failed, despite pumping 900 tons of water into the ship.  Thick smoke made the source of the flames impossible for emergency crews to locate.

The order to abandon ship was given at 15:50.  At 16:06, the first of two explosions cut the ship in half and broke windows over 12 km away.  The initial blast sent fiery debris in an 800-meter arc around the ship, setting about two square miles of the immediate area on fire.  Eleven neighboring vessels sunk with the first blast.  Fire crews also suffered devastating losses with the initial blast.  The second blast occurred at 16:34.

Aftermath

Emergency response teams needed three days to control the fire.  8,000 men took seven months to remove the 500,000 tons of debris that the SS Fort Stikine scattered when she exploded, and to repair the damage her explosion did to the docks.  Official records place the death toll at 740, 476 of whom were military personnel.  1,800 people were injured as a result of the Bombay Explosion and a total of 27 vessels were sunk or damaged in Victoria Dock and in the neighboring Prince’s Dock, which also felt the effects of the blast.
Many families lost everything due to the devastation spread by the Bombay Explosion.  The government compensated them for their losses.
The Mumbai Fire Brigade headquarters have erected a memorial to the firefighters who died in the Bombay Explosion.  Fire Safety Week is observed in their honor from 14 April to 21 April across Maharashtra.
Decades later, into the 1970s, gold bars were still being found in the docking bay where the SS Fort Stikine
exploded. 

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