History: Ship Fire That Threatened Hamilton

November 4, 2019

A ship named after Bermuda proved to be one of the unluckiest vessels ever to put to sea.

Purpose built for the New York-Bermuda run by the Furness-Withy Line at the dawn of the island’s modern tourism era, MV Bermuda arrived in Hamilton Harbour on her maiden voyage in January, 1928.

A floating showcase of style and speed, the Bermuda was a masterwork of classic ocean liner design.

Measuring 547 feet and powered by the latest in Doxford diesel engine, she could carry up to 691 passengers in well appointed cabins.

But less than three years.after her inaugural trip to Bermuda, the island’s namesake liner was badly damaged by a fire while berthed alongside Front Street.

At one point it was even feared the June 17, 1931 inferno would spread from ship to shore and endanger Hamilton’s main shopping precinct.

The fire is believed to have broken out in one of the ship’s elevator shafts and then quickly spread. .

Within an hour three of the 20,000-ton vessel’s decks were ablaze, throwing a thick pall of smoke over Hamilton.

It took three-and-a-half hours to get the fire under control and more than a day to fully extinguish it.

“Tourists crowded the waterfront, watching the partial destruction of the handsome vessel which brought them here,” said an Associated Press report. “When they came too close, police and [British] marines [fort he Bermuda military garrison] with fixed bayonets pressed them back from the danger zone for there was still a possibility that the oil tanks might explode from the blistering heat.

“Tugs played streams of water from the outboard side while firemen ashore turned their hoses into the flames. Four men were badly burned and taken to hospital but there was no loss of life and no passengers were aboard.”

The fire was largely confined to the Bermuda’s upper decks, one of the few fortunates aspects of the disaster: had the blaze spread to the oil tanks, said the Associated Press correspondent, “such an eventually would have seriously threatened the destruction by fire of the town of Hamilton.”

The Bermuda was eventually salvaged and returned to the Belfast shipyard where she had been built for repairs.

But on November 19, 1931, she caught fire again. The vessel was completely gutted by the second blaze and sold for scrap.

However the Bermuda proved to be unlucky for a third and final time. She broke loose on her tow to the breakers’ yard and ended up being wrecked on Scotland’s northwest coast during a violent winter storm.

The smouldering hulk of the MV Bermuda at a Belfast shipyard after a second fire gutted the liner

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