On 16 April 1947, the cargo vessel Grandcamp was in the port of Texas City (US). As a cargo of fertiliser containing ammonium nitrate was being loaded, a fire broke out in the holds. The flames could not be controlled and the fire rapidly gained force. No tugs were available on site, which eliminated the possibility of any attempt to move the vessel away. Suddenly, the Grandcamp exploded. The shock wave in turn ignited several fires and explosions in the port infrastructures and caused a tidal wave. Many buildings and homes were destroyed and Texas City had to be evacuated.
The American cargo vessel High Flyer, also loaded with a cargo of ammonium nitrate in the port of Texas City, went on fire following the explosion onboard the French vessel. The High Flyer then followed the Grandcamp’s lead and exploded during the night of 16-17 April. The port was completely destroyed by the series of explosions. It took a week to control the numerous fires which had broken out in the port area.
In total, the disaster resulted in the death of 600 people and over 3,000 people were injured. Among the 41 crew members of the Grandcamp, only 7 survived the disaster, as they were not near to the vessel at the time of the explosion. As for the vessel, the Grandcamp was completely destroyed in the explosion. One of its anchors was found 3 km away from the vessel, buried in a garden.
In retrospect, it seems that a fire may have broken out spontaneously due to the very high temperatures under the piles of sacks of ammonium nitrate inside the closed holds. Furthermore, the cargo was manufactured from a surplus of reconditioned war powder; there were therefore perhaps impurities responsible for the fertiliser ignition.
After 10 years of legal battle, the US Government was recognised as liable for the accident and the victim’s families finally received compensation.
Date: 16 April 1947
Location: United States
Accident area: Texas City
Cause of spill: fire
Quantity transported: 2,200 tonnes
Type of pollutant: ammonium nitrate
Ship type: cargo vessel
Date built: 1942
Shipyard: California Shipbuilding Corp., Los Angeles
Length: 128.82 m
Width: 17.37 m
Charterer: Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, France
Last update: October 2009