On 26th December 2004, a dozen Asian countries were struck by tsunamis, claiming well over 150,000 lives with a further million people displaced. Countries around the world responded swiftly, with billions of dollars pledged towards the relief package and reconstruction of the affected countries. Way back in Singapore, the Government, Singapore Red Cross, SPH and numerous organisations appealed for donations. Within a space of one week, tens of millions of dollars were raised, tons of foods, clothings and essential items collected. This disaster reminds me of an industrial accident that took place in Singapore 27 years ago, termed 'The Spyros Case'.
One ship or 'vessel' as in marine terms, was undergoing repairs at one of the major shipyards in Singapore. In fact, this vessel was undergoing major overhauling of the Engine Room. Engine room is where all the turbines and machinery parts needed to propel and operate the ship are located. There are lots of fuel oil pipes running from main deck down to engine room. Pipes are welded onto flanges. After which the flanges will be coupled up with bolts and nuts. What happened on that fateful day?
There was this particular pipe line to be renewed. As it was a fuel oil pipe, with gases inside, the shipyard's safety officer did not approved any hot work. Cold work permit was issued instead, that was, to dismantle the bolts and nuts by using spanners. As the bolts and nuts were heavily corroded, the pipe fitter encountered lots of difficulties. When the saftety officer was not around, for his own convenience, he used an oxy-acetylene cutting torch instead. The sparks produced got into contact with the gases in the pipe. Gases ignited and it back-fired all the way to engine room. Flash fire occured, explosion took place followed by fire in engine room. Initially, a dozen workers were confirmed dead with a few hundred workers injured with burns all over their bodies. Appeals were sent out for cash and blood donations. Singaporeans and foreign workers alike responded in a way I have not seen before. Taxi drivers and hawkers from all over the island donated their days taking towards the fund set up for the victims' families. Workers from other industries donated generously. Companies after companies sent their employees on chartered buses to destinated make-shift tents for blood donations. The response was overwhelming. Day after day, more and more casualties were announced. Most of the injured suffered third degree burn, some could not make it. Singapore was plunged into a sombre state. The atmospheric presence in Singapore was very eerie as though mourning for the deceased. At last count, 76 families loss their loved ones with hundreds injured. Singapore experienced one of its worst casualties from a single accident in peacetime. The pipe fitter was found guilty and put behind bars for a few years. The vessel 'Spyros' was later sent to a scrapeyard, never to sail the sea again.
This industrial accident had such an impact on me that whenever I think of it, the date of that fateful day just surface in my mind ..... automatically ..... October, 12th, 1978.