The Malta Independent 21 May 2024, Tuesday
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26 years ago today: the Um El Faroud tragedy

Albert Galea Wednesday, 3 February 2021, 10:15 Last update: about 4 years ago

26 years ago today, nine dockyard workers were tragically killed in an explosion on board a Libyan tanker which they were working on in the drydocks.

The Um El Faroud, a tanker built in the UK in 1969 but, by 1995, owned by the General National Transport Company of Libya, was in Malta for extensive repair works.  It had been transporting refined fuel for a number of years, and was scheduled to have its pipework re-done and its cargo tanks blasted.

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16 crew members were in the accommodation area of the ship, which also needed works, inside Dock 3 on February 3, 1995, at 10:15pm when an explosion ripped through the ship.

Seven of the workers- George Aquilina, 24, of Qormi, Charles Callus, 46, of Valletta, Mario Hales, 39, of Mqabba, Simon Mifsud, 26, of Birgu, Simon Pisani, 22, of Msida, Angelo Sciberras, 51, of Zabbar,  and Anthony Vassallo, 29 of Dingli- died instantly.

The other two- Paul Seguna, 37, of Zebbug and George Xuereb, 58, of Qormi suffered grievous injuries, and later died at St Luke's Hospital.

While in the ambulance, Xuereb reportedly asked the medical staff what had happened to his co-workers.

The inquiry into the tragedy found that the explosion took place after one of the workers who died was cutting through a valve at the manifold near the extensive pipework located on the deck above the tank.

Sparks from the welding got into an open manhole which in turn ignited the flammable vapour in the tank that had not been ‘gas freed’ – which is a process used to empty tanks of flammable vapours – before the works started.

The explosion was of such scale that it shook houses in nearby towns – one house in Senglea even reported windows breaking – and ripped the ship open like a sardine can.

The families of the victims started a civil action suit demanding compensation, and they eventually received compensation from the government on behalf of the Malta Drydocks in an out-of-court settlement.

In 1998, after the inquiry was concluded, the ship was scuttled off Wied iz-Zurrieq for usage as an artificial shipwreck and a diving attraction.

A brass plaque was stuck to the ship as a memorial to the nine workers.

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