Other Event Detail

Oil Tanker Bidwell Explosion
Marcus Hook, PA

February 4, 1932

During the night February 4, 1932, the M.S. Bidwell, an oil tanker belonging to the Sun Oil Company in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, exploded and burned at the Sinclair Dock. The first explosion came at 12:40 a.m., and all of the crew except a small deck watch were asleep at the time. The three members of the deck watch were hurled into the water by the force of the first blast, which came from the engine-room. A series of explosions followed, and a curtain of flame cut the ship off from the dock and made rescue from that side impossible. Between 50 and 60 persons were aboard the vessel at the time. Many who were able to reach the deck of the ship, only to find their escape cut off by flames, leaped into the icy waters of the Delaware River. The first blast is believed to have killed several of the crew sleeping near the engine-room. Others rushed to the companionways and sought to escape to the deck. Some were trapped below. Seventeen of the people on-board were killed, including the Captain, Joseph Rivers of Hollis, New York. His wife Viola, aboard at the time, was injured and rescued from the frigid waters of the Delaware River by Edward J. Cartain of Chester, an employee at Sinclair Refining, who swam to her rescue. He was subsequently awarded the Carnegie medal for heroism. Also killed was the Second Mate, Harry Ockelman, the natural father of future Hollywood actress Veronica Lake. The death of the men in this explosion, started the Sun Oil Company on a road to find an inert gas system to prevent such a tragedy happening again. Many lives were saved on Sun Oil Company ships in subsequent years through the introduction of this inert gas system. The Bidwell was repaired and placed back in service. One dark night off Cape Hatteras during World War II, a Nazi submarine sent a torpedo into her port side ripping her deck into shambles and one crewman was lost. Again, the ship was repaired and she continued her work. Finally after logging two-million miles during 33 years of Sun Oil Company service, she was sold to the Greek Government and went to Maracaibo, Venezuela as a station ship.

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