Disasters: The Day the Ocean Caught Fire

Off the South African coast, a supertanker becomes an inferno

The 138,882-ton Spanish supertanker Castillo de Bellver was lumbering around the Cape of Good Hope, some 75 miles northwest of Cape Town, on its way home with 250,000 tons of Persian Gulf crude oil, when at 1:30 a.m. crewmen discovered a fire near the ship's bridge. The crew attacked the blaze with foam extinguishers, but within minutes the fire was out of control. Said Captain Alfonso Civera: "The whole ship became an inferno."

As the crew members ran for the lifeboats, the flames ignited the cargo, which had begun to spill...

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