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Vessel type Cargoship
Year launched 1958
Cargo type Explosives
Country of build United Kingdom

The horrific loss of the UK-flagged cargoship Seistan resulted in a far-reaching review of the rules governing the carriage of dangerous goods and explosives.

The build

Built in South Shields by John Readhead & Sons, Seistan was of 145.66m (477.9ft) loa and was powered by a four-cylinder Doxford-type engine. Seistan could produce 4,400bhp driving as single screw and giving a top speed of 13.5 knots.

The explosion of 1958

The 7,440grt Strick Line vessel was less than a year old when it exploded and sank. This resulted in the loss of 57 lives whist at anchor off Sitra Island, Bahrain during a voyage from London to the Persian Gulf.

Seistan was just three weeks into its second voyage when smoke was seen coming from a deck ventilator of the No 5 hold. The cargo included 150 tons of commercial explosives, as well as fuses and detonators. The crew decided to use smothering steam to extinguish the fire.

Seistan diverted to Bahrain and work immediately began to discharge the explosives to barges with attempts to fight the fire occurring at the same time. Almost half the total had been removed when a massive explosion occurred, killing 53 of the 68 British officers and Indian ratings, as well as four crew members from a tug.


A court of inquiry held in London in February 1959 heard that the fire had originated in the lower part of the No 5 hold and was likely to have been the result of spontaneous combustion of a cargo of toe puff – a material impregnated with highly flammable cellulose nitrate solvent and used in the manufacture of boots and shoes.

Barely two months after the Seistan disaster, two fires broke out in a toe puff cargo being carried by another Strick Line ship, Karaghistan, which the crew were able to extinguish.

The Seistan inquiry heard that recommendations on the safe carriage of toe puff were not compulsory and it strongly recommended that the cargo should no longer be allowed to be carried by ships, except on deck, until more research into the risks of spontaneous combustion was completed.


In 1959, a meeting of the Nautilus predecessor union Merchant Navy & Airline Officers' Association (MNAOA) debated a motion calling for danger money to be paid to all those serving on merchant ships carrying explosives.

The Union also raised its concerns about the incident with the UK Ministry of Transport, and general secretary Doug Tennant was appointed to an advisory committee established by the UK government to review the rules governing the shipment of dangerous goods and explosives. This body went on to make a substantial input into the development and adoption, in 1965, of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.

Seistan fact file


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