Dara mostly travelled between the Arabian Gulf and the Indian continent, carrying expatriate passengers who had employment in the Gulf States. She had accomodation for 20 1st Class, 54 2nd Class and 1377 deck passengers.
A bomb exploded on board, while off the coast of Dubai, on the 8th April 1961 which caused the vessel to eventually sink. It was never clearly established who planted the bomb, or why, but there was a high loss of life attributed to the incident, despite the fact that no one was on board when it sank. At the time, it was the worst peace time disasters on the high seas, second to the Titanic. There is some conjecture that, due to the circumstances, the perpetrator of the crime may also have been on board at the time of the explosion. Captained by Charles Elson, there was a total of 819 on board, including 19 officers and 113 crew; 238 died from burns or drowning.
The vessel had sailed from Bombay on the 23rd May on a round trip to Basera, calling at intermediate ports. It had arrived at Dubai on the 7th April and was unloading cargo, embarking and disembarking passengers when a violent storm of wind and rain prevented further work. Capt. Elison decided to take the ship out of harbour to ride the storm. There was not time to disembark persons on board who did not intend to travel. These included relatives and friends seeing off the passengers, hawkers, cargo labourers and shipping/ immigration officials. It was while returning to harbour after the storm, at about 04.40 Hrs on the morning of the 8th, that there was a heavy explosion between decks (Click here to see plan) and the ship caught fire.
There was a certain amount of panic among the crew and passengers and many perished by jumping into the sea or by over crowded lifeboats, which capsized. There were several ships close at hand and help was given by British, German, Japanese and Norwegian vessels.
Three British frigates and a US destroyer, sent parties on board and were able to get the fire under control. Dara was then taken in tow by the the Glasgow salvage vessel OCEAN SALVOR, but sank at 09.20 Hrs on April 10th.
The wreck lies in approximately 15 m of water and is in a 093į/273į direction with her bowes pointing East. It lies on its starboard side and the main mast is visible at 2m above mean high water.
(Click here to see chart.)
The following message was left in the guest book by Jack Frith on the 21/10/04. He has kindly agreed for me to repeat the message here, (thanks Jack).
I was the captain of the Search and Rescue Shackleton that was sent from Aden to search for and aid the Dara. The photograph that you are using was taken by one of my crew from the beam position on the aircraft when we arrived on scene. I dropped a Lindholm rescue gear (contained a dingy, food, water etc) to what appeared to be some surviviors in the water but since no effort was made to reach the gear it had to be assumed that we were too late. Seems a long time ago now.
The following is an abridged message left on the 13/12/06 by Peter Jordan, ex Chief Officer at the time on the Dara. (thanks Peter).
I was in fact chief officer on board that terrible night, so am fully aware of the sequence of events.
The explosion occurred outside the vishiwala galley which went through to the engine room bulkhead and up through 2 decks, which were the passenger and main lounge. Having checked, as best as possible, there was no way of containing the fire due to the fact that the bomb had disrupted all electrical, fire water and steering module, so we had no choice but to abandon ship.
Alarms by this time were already going off, crew were alerted and due to the weather, which was almost gale force, the fires spread rapidly. We launched lifeboats, but due to the panic, one lifeboat in particular, I recall, was overcrowded and overturned in the rough sea. Another life boat manned by the second officer Charlie ??(can't remember) had been damaged by a Greek Vessel which had dragged her anchor and collided with our bow and damaged the lifeboat and a few other parts of the ship some hours prior to the explosion! This lifeboat full of people, though almost sinking due to the damage, was rescued by a Norwegian Tanker's Lifeboat. This same Norwegian Tanker came steaming in despite the fact they were not gas free ( i.e. at high risk themselves of exploding) and saved many many lives including my own. I wish to thank them very much.
As for, dare I say it, the Empire Guillemot, we called her by Morse light and asked for help, but due to her cargo of bombs and explosives she could not and would not come close for fear of explosion; that is a fact!! She sat out there like, well Iím sorry there was no excuse, they were the nearest ship to us, and sat there, they could have steamed in, dropped some lifeboats and moved on, but alas did not. As for reports I have read, that they saved lives, well they did not, they may have had survivors picked up by the Norwegians transferred to their ship, but that is all.
I am 75 years of age now, so can speak freely of the events that occurred that night. I do not wish to incite any anger or change to what has been said and written, but facts are facts, and I can only say the truth as it was. I do not wish to put a damper on the Dara as a Dive site, however, for me at least she is Gravesite for all the people who lost their lives that terrible day and should be respected as such.
* Note by Clive: - While respecting Peterís views regarding Dara being used as a dive site, and it may be appropriated to regard it as a memorial to those who died, it is my information that the ship had been boarded by US and British naval personnel, as explained above, and was in tow when it went down. As such it is assumed that all the crew and passengers had had the chance to leave the ship. There may have been the bodies of anyone killed by the blast, still on board but I can say that in almost fifty years the wreck has been dived, I had never heard of anyone coming across any remains.
In the late 70s and early 80s the writer was a member of the local diving club in Dubai and dived, with the other members of the club, on the wreck of Dara.
Many souvenirs were taken from the wreck at this time, in the way of portholes lanterns, and anything brass. One of these portholes now serves as opening in brick fireplace which views into a fish tank behind; another has been made into a clock. It is doubtful whether the wreck, to date, has anything left to be to relinquish. One of the club members' eventually bought the salvage rights of the wreck and by now there may be little left. (Perhaps anyone reading this, who knows the site and the current state of the wreck, might leave a message in the guest book on the Home Page).
This is a recent account of the wreck. Kindly provided,on the 10/12/06, by Doug Fontaine who is a current member of the 406 club. Thanks Doug.
The Dara is well broken up now and itís easy to get lost, the bow is still fairly well intact or should I say one side of it is; the anchor is still in place, the two masts now lie on the seabed, heading towards the wreck with the masts in front of you the bows are to your right.
A sketch of how the Dara Wreck lies on the sea bed, as Doug has explained, can be viewed by
(clicking here on this text).
Some Pictures From These Days:
Most of this motly crew, at a Roman Party, constituted a good percentage of the divers who "pillaged" Dara. The guy in the bottom left hand corner had bought the salvage rights to the wreck which legitimised the plundering.
This is a picture of a sister ship "Dwarka", built in 1947. She was eventualy scrapped at Gadani Beach, India in 1982.
This is a badge from a BI envelope of 1939, taken from the BI web site: http://www.biship.com/index.htm
For some nice paintings of ships, further BI information, livery & insignia, click on the above link to view their site.
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