When another Norman Atlantic caught fire

2 01 2015

The recent fire aboard the Norman Atlantic, an Italian registered Ropax ferry sailing between Greece and Italy, brought to mind another ship named Norman Atlantic, which sank in the Gulf of Oman some 27 years ago. The 1980s was a decade that saw frequent attacks mounted on merchant shipping during the so-called Tanker War and it was common to see missile damaged ships being repaired at shipyards in Singapore during the time.

The Norman Atlantic on fire and listing after the attack by Iranian gunboats (source: http://www.mintpressnews.com).

That Norman Atlantic, a 85,129 ton DWT Singapore registered Oil-Bulk-Ore (OBO) carrier, was bound for Europe with a cargo of Kuwaiti naphtha when she was attacked by Iranian gunboats in the southern Persian Gulf on 6 December 1987. This came at the height of the tanker war that was carried out during the Iran-Iraq conflict. While the targets had primarily been civilian shipping, one of the more notable casualties of the war was a US Navy guided-missile frigate, the USS Stark, that had been hit by Iraqi Exocet missiles in May of the same year resulting in a loss of 37 servicemen.

Iran gunboats in the Persian Gulf during the Tanker War (source: Wikipedia).

The sinking on 10 December 1987 of the Norman Atlantic, which was towed out to the Gulf of Oman to prevent it from posing a hazard to shipping in the congested Strait of Hormuz, made it the first tanker to be sunk by the Iranian forces. Fortunately, all 33 on board including 13 Singaporeans, managed to abandon the vessel safely. It was not to be so in two other incidents over a one year period that spanned from March 1987 to March 1988 year involving Singaporean seamen – many of whom were drawn to serving on ships sailing through the dangerous “kamikaze alley” by the war-zone allowances that were paid.  Three Singaporeans were killed in an attack on the MT Sedra on 28 March 1987 and another two when the Havglimt, which was carrying a cargo of ammonia, was attacked twice on 22 March 1988.

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