AUGUST 1983: CASTILLO DE BELLVER EXPLODES OFF THE COAST OF SOUTH AFRICA

July 14, 2018

Castillo de Bellver was a Spanish tanker built at the Puerto Real shipyard in Cadiz and delivered in 1978 to Empresa Nacional Elcano de la Marina. The tanker fully laden with 250,000 tons of light crude oil loaded in Zirku Island, 140 Km northwest of Abu Dhabi was en route to Cartagena, Spain, for the delivery of oil to the owner company, Enpetrol.
On 6 August 1983, sailing at about 50 miles of Table Bay, South Africa, Castillo de Bellver developed a crack amidships and caught fire. The rack could have been sustained a week or so earlier. The 36 members of the crew abandoned ship, but three were lost. Most of the 33 surviviors were taken on-board the trawler Harvest Carina from two lifeboats and four liferafts after spending three hours being tossed around in stormy seas, while one was rescued by a container vessel, and another two air-lifted to safety from the blazing deck by a helicopter. The blazing ship drifted towards shore and broke in two following a massive explosion. The stern section possibly with as much as 100,000 tons of oil remaining in her tanks capsized and sank in deep water, 24 nautical miles off the coast. The bow section was towed away from the coast and eventually sunk with the use of controlled explosive charges. Approximately 50-60,000 tonnes is estimated to have spilled into the sea or was burned.
Although a considerable amount of oil entered the sea as a result of the Castillo de Belver incident, there was little requirement for cleanup (there was some dispersant spraying) and environmental effects were minimal. The only visible damage was the oiling of some 1,500 gannets, most of which were collected from an island near the coast where they were gathering for the onset of the breeding season. A number of seals were observed surfacing in the vicinity of the dispersant spraying activities but were not thought to have suffered any adverse effects.
Also of initial concern was the ‘black rain’ of airborne oil droplets that fell during the first 24 hours of the incident on wheat growing and sheep grazing lands due east of the accident, although no long-term damage was recorded from these residues. The impact on both the rich fishing grounds and the fish stocks of the area was also considered to be negligible. (Source: CEDRE, ITOPF, CTX – Image: Castillo de Bellver in flames off the coast of South Africa)