Fiery Tanker Crash At New York
By James Donahue
Errors in judgment by the navigators aboard two tanker ships carrying volatile cargos resulted
in a collision, explosion and fire that consumed both tankers, two attending tugs and left 37 sailors dead and more than 20
injured in New York harbor on June 16, 1966.
The fiery accident remains counted even today as among the deadliest shipwrecks in the
history of New York Harbor.
The tankers, the British MV Alva Cape was entering the harbor with a cargo of naphtha and
was struck amidships on the starboard side by the outgoing American tanker Texaco Massachusetts. The raging explosion and
fire that resulted from the crash destroyed not only the tankers but the tugs Latin America and Esso Vermont.
Thirty-four sailors perished during this first explosive event on July 3. Nineteen of them
perished on the Alva Cape, eight on the Esso Vermont, three on the Texaco Massachusetts and three on the tug Latin America.
The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and New York City fire boats worked together to battle the flames and rescue as many sailors as
possible from the burning vessels in a place with the ominous name of Kill Van Kull Channel.
The blaze was finally extinguished, but the Alva Cape was not finished as a human death
trap. Three more men were killed in yet another explosion while they were aboard the burned out wreck, attempting to unload
what remained of its deadly cargo. This happened just 12 days later, bringing the death toll from the accident to 37.
During subsequent litigation and hearings it was learned that the crew of the Texaco Massachusetts
worried about a possible collision as the two vessels approached each other in what would have involved a harbor crossing.
The larger 604-foot Texaco Massachusetts reversed engines and attempted to back as the 546-foot British tanker approached.
It was determined that if the American tanker had maintained its speed and taken no action, it would have safely passed and
averted the crash.
After the second explosion, the Coast Guard towed the Alva Cape 110 miles out to sea and
then shelled the ship until it blew up once again and sank