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On This Day… The Day Two Supertankers Collided In The Caribbean Sea

Written by: George Chittenden : 21 May 2019

It was on this day, 19th July back in 1979 when two gigantic supertankers crashed into each other off the island of Little Tobago in the Caribbean Sea. The collision occurred in the early evening, as the ships battled through thick fog and heavy rain. Unfortunately, the two ships, the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain didn’t spot each other until they were only 550 meters apart, and of course by then it was too late. Both ships were severely damaged, however the Aegean Captain which was carrying 200,000 tons of oil managed to transfer some of its cargo to other vessels before being towed towards Trinidad. The Atlantic Empress wasn’t so lucky. Unfortunately fires raged on her decks and oil spilled into the sea, burning on the surface.

The fire was still burning four days after the collision when an explosion rocked the ship, and it wasn’t the last. Emergency services worked tirelessly to prevent the ship spilling her oil into the Caribbean Sea, but their work was in vain. The SS Atlantic Empress continued to burn, and further explosions shook the supertanker. It wasn’t until July 29th, which was ten days after the collision that all hopes of containing the blaze were extinguished. The ill-fated ship was rocked by a final explosion before sinking to the ocean floor. At the time it was the worst oil-tanker accident in history and remains one of the very few times in history when two oil tankers have collided.

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