On March 28, 1950, the tanker SOUTHERN SUN and the freighter BRANT COUNTY collided in the Delaware Bay. The tanker of some 8950 gross tons, was owned by Sun Oil Company of Philadelphia. It was southbound in the Delaware Bay during very foggy weather, using radar for navigation. The Norwegian vessel, SS Brant County, some 7176 gross tons, was proceeding northbound up the bay, also using radar. Both vessels were proceeding at what would have been normal speed, and collided at 1100 approximately one mile above the intersection of Brandywine Range and the Miah Maull Range. As a result of the casualty, no lives were lost nor were any injuries sustained by any person or persons.
There were smooth seas at the time, little wind, an ebb tide running, with visibility at about 40 feet at 1031 as noted by the helmsman on the Southern Sun. He also noted that he couldn’t see Miah Maull Lighthouse. At 1050 that lighthouse was abeam the Southern Sun, 0.6 miles to port by radar. Only the top of the lighthouse was briefly seen and a target was beginning to appear on the radar at that time. The helmsman interpreted that target, about ½ point on the port bow as an up bound vessel attempting to cut the corner from Brandywine to Miah Maull Ranges by going westward of turn Buoy No. 19. The fog whistle of the approaching vessel (the Brant County) was heard ahead and to starboard.
The master ordered speed reduced to slow. The Southern Sun was then one and one-half miles to 2 miles above Buoy No. 19. The master at the radar, concluding that the situation was critical, rang the general alarm and ordered hard left rudder. In the engine room the 3rd assistant left the throttle to start the fire pump located about 50 feet away. He didn’t reach it before the collision. The chief engineer meanwhile, was in his cabin forward on the starboard side. Hearing whistles and the general alarm, he glanced through his forward port hole and saw the approaching vessel about one ship’s length off. He ran to the engine room but only reached the second grating when the two ships collided. At the time of the collision, the speed of each vessel was estimated at two to three knots, but the Brant County dropped anchor when she was approximately 100 feet from the Southern Sun .
Miah Maull Lighthouse
The friction of impact caused fire to ignite on both vessels. The ships separated, with the Brant County remaining anchored. The Southern Sun cleared her and drifted downstream, maneuvered, and then anchored at 1145.
On the Southern Sun the fire was confined to the inside of the tank, and there was no explosion. Although the tank was empty and not ballasted, it had been filled with inert gas on discharge at Marcus Hook. The fire was extinguished within 20 minutes using steam smothering, one foamite and two water hoses. The fire was fought under direction of the chief mate. At 1304 the ship proceeded, returning to Philadelphia unassisted, with extensive damage to her bow.
Onboard the Brant County, the pilot noted they had passed Buoy No. 19 about 1000 feet off on port side about five minutes before the collision. Fog signals of an outbound vessel were heard by the master. Masts and radar antenna of Southern Sun wee sighted, in line, on the port bow, about one mile off. The Southern Sun appeared to be turning on left rudder. The danger signal and one blast were blown. The engines were ordered half ahead, and hard right rudder. At about 1057 the pilot ordered emergency full astern and drop port anchor. Although the anchor had been made ready previously the actual process took about three minutes. The chain tightened up prior to impact. The collision occurred about one minute after the full astern bell. The bow of the Brant County struck the starboard side of the Southern Sun. A slight fire broke out in storm oil stowed in the forepeak of the Brant County, but was quickly extinguished with water.
The pilots of both vessels were found to have been disregarding safe practices before the accident. Although radar had indicated to each vessel the presence of the other long before the fog signals were heard, neither ship was ordered to stop her engines and navigate with caution until danger of collision was passed. Those actions are required when a fog signal of a vessel is heard, apparently forward of the beam and the position of which is not ascertained.
Proceedings against the master of the Southern Sun were instituted on a charge of negligence for having used excessive speed, in adopting a course to the left side of the channel, and in failing to stop his engines. He failed to follow the established rules and prudent practices of safe navigation, thereby hazarding his vessel and contributing to the cause of the collision.