Peter McArthur’s article on ship hydrodynamics reminded me of the Royston Grange tragedy on the River Plate in 1972 which was most likely caused by a combination of bank rejection, interaction and a poorly maintained channel. Surprisingly little factual information is available regarding this collision so the following  account has been compiled from several sources.  The photos are from the web with no photographer accredited. JCB

On the 11th May 1972, the Houlder Line’s 7,113 ton Royston Grange, was outward bound in the River Plate from Buenos Aires to London with a cargo of chilled and frozen beef and butter.  On board were 61 crew, 12 passengers (including six women and a 5-year old child) and the Argentinian pilot. At 0540, as she traversed the Punta Indio Channel in dense fog, she collided with the Liberian-registered tanker Tien Chee, carrying 20,000 tons of crude oil. The Tien Chee immediately burst into flames and a series of explosions rapidly carried the flames to the Royston Grange where most of the crew and passengers were asleep. Although the Royston Grange did not sink, all 74 on board were killed. This is surprising since the Royston Grange had split accommodation with the Deck Officers & passengers separated from the engineers and crew accommodation by a cargo hatch. The reason for this grim statistic seems to be that following what would appear to have been an initial fireball of vapour, the cargo of butter and the hold insulation ignited resulting in an inferno which would have been impossible to survive. The Tien Chee also caught fire and eight of her forty Chinese crew died but the remainder, along with her Argentinian pilot, managed to abandon ship and were picked up by cutters of the Argentine Naval Prefecture.

The report of the Liberian enquiry into the disaster concluded that the master and pilot of the Tien Chee, in an attempt to get enough water for her deep draught, had probably been navigating too far to the south of the channel. The report concluded that the officers of the Royston Grange were probably not to blame, although there may have been some human error in attempting to avoid the collision. Whilst finding that the Master and pilot of the Tien Chee probably should’nt have entered the channel in the tidal conditions prevailing at the time, the report criticised the lack of maintenance of the channel.

Subsequent analysis suggests that the Royston Grange had probably suffered bank rejection causing her to shear towards the Tien Chee. With the Tien Chee navigating with minimum UKC she was probably navigating in navigable mud and experiencing difficulty in steering so as the two vessels approached each other the interaction forces would have been enhanced. The diagram below taken from Ship Stability for Masters & Mates reconstructs the collision.

As ships get ever bigger and operational windows are reduced, safety parameters are inevitably eroded and the Royston Grange tragedy serves as a reminder as to how important an understanding of     hydrodymics are to safe ship handling.


Those killed are all buried in The British Cemetery in Montevideo (following picture) but the above stained  glass  window was commissioned as a memorial in the All Hallows-by-the-Tower church in London.


The list of the deceased:

The Tien Chee was scrapped at Buenos Aires in 1976 and the Royston Grange was eventually scrapped in Spain in 1979.                JCB

Further information (in Spanish) and photos are at the following link: 

Record of the 40th anniversary service held in Montevideo along with tributes (in English & Spanish) can be read at the following link:

It would appear that my Royston Grange article  was published just too late to avoid an almost identical collision scenario which features in the 2012 MAIB digest! Fortunately on this occasion there was no loss of life but the following edited extract from the MAIB report highlights the need for caution when navigating in narrow channels.          JCB

A 10,000 tonne container vessel, with a pilot embarked, collided with another vessel which was proceeding in the opposite direction of a narrow channel. Both vessels suffered extensive damage and were out of service for a considerable period while costly repairs were undertaken.

Prior to the collision, the container vessel had increased speed to overtake a small barge as she entered a long, narrower channel. The overtaking manoeuvre resulted in her being on the extreme starboard side of the channel, close to the bank. A short time later the vessel then took a sudden and uncontrollable sheer to port into the path of a vessel proceeding in the opposite direction.

Analysis of information obtained from the container vessel’s VDR showed that she was influenced by bank effect and squat prior to the collision. The vessel’s speed was excessive, and she was closer to the bank and in less water than the bridge team had planned for. In shallow water, with reduced under keel clearance, the vessel’s pivot point would have moved aft, reducing her steering lever. Close to the edge of the bank the large forces associated with the high pressure area around her bow and the low pressure area around her stern caused the sudden sheer to port which the helmsman was unable to correct before the collision occurred.

Fundamental to incident was the decision to overtake the barge at the entrance of the smaller channel. This decision to overtake was taken to avoid following the slower barge along a channel where overtaking would have been difficult. However, the decision was made without sufficient communication between the bridge team or consideration of the consequences of the manoeuvre.

The Lessons

1. The cause and effects of interaction should be recognised and taken into account. Speed is critical, since the magnitude of forces created by both bank effect and squat increases with the square of the vessel’s speed through the water.

2. The requirements of planning and executing a safe navigational passage must be clearly and fully understood and implemented by all bridge officers. SOLAS Chapter V clearly defines the requirements for the planning and conduct of a safe navigational passage and the key elements of these are:

Appraising, Planning, Executing and Monitoring

When a pilot supplements the bridge team, these requirements do not change; if anything, the ship’s permanent team should be even more vigilant when monitoring the execution of the mutually agreed passage plan.


71 Responses to “The ROYSTON GRANGE Tragedy”

Patricia mortensen
July 15th, 2020 at 00:38

Will there be a memorial service In 2020,
Does anyone have any photos of the crew who lost their lives.?


Jeff Frankling
July 15th, 2020 at 16:39

The 50th anniversary will be in 2022 – maybe then, there should be.


Susan new Bruce
August 15th, 2020 at 11:13

I have a picture of Leonard Bruce, he was a crew member who died onboard. He was my brother.


Mr M Green
September 11th, 2020 at 19:47

I was an engineer on the Royston Grange for a period before the tragedy

I would attend any meeting

Mike Green


Susan (nee Bruce) Watson
September 14th, 2020 at 12:24

Hello, would anyone know if there are any plans for a 50th Anniversary memorial service for the crew of the Royston Grange. My Brother Lenard Bruce was a crew member, l would like to attend a service even if it is in Montevideo.


Jeff Frankling
September 25th, 2020 at 09:47

I was the Radio Officer in 1970-71 I would also like to attend a memorial service.


Dennis Earle
January 24th, 2021 at 21:03

I served on the Hardwick Grange as EDH 1966 I am now 73 years of age living in Southampton and the Royston is quite frequently in my mind.


Palitha Mannapperuma
April 12th, 2021 at 04:09

The first time I read about this tragic incident, in Richard A Cahill’s book “Collisions and their Causes” was in 1984, as a second mate.
The unbelievably tragic circumstances never left my imagination and I used to quote this when I was teaching at a nautical school. What I want to say is that many in this part of the world had not heard about it and all those lives lost on that day would have been in vain if the present and future generations of seafarers don’t learn from it.
I hope this 50th anniversary memorial service will raise some awareness .That is the best way we can pay respects to all those who died within a matter of seconds, on that fateful day.

Capt. Palitha Mannapperuma from Sri Lanka


Francis Devine
May 11th, 2021 at 05:31

I worked by on this ship, for a week with a view to sailing on her, on that fateful trip. And I think about it every year. RIP to all who perished.
I have never spoken about it for over 40 years.


May 11th, 2021 at 07:02

Remembrance day again,49years on,will have several tots to celebrate the happy memories shared sailing with many absent friends,lost on the Royston Grange.


John Findlay
May 11th, 2021 at 15:32

I was at Gravesend national sea training school with Michael Hawley who died on the Royston Grange.It was his first ship, and was a deck boy on there.


May 11th, 2021 at 17:10

Hi John,

Michael was my uncle! I’d love to hear any stories you have or see any photos.

Where are you based now?

Kind regards



May 11th, 2021 at 21:29

Hi All,

As it’s 50years next year my family and I would love to attend a memorial if there is one happening? My Uncle Michael Hawley lost his life on the Royston Grange and would love to be able to honour 50 years for him.

Please keep me posted

Victoria x


John Findlay
May 11th, 2021 at 22:02

Hi Victoria
I went to Sea school with Michael
Regards John


John Findlay
May 11th, 2021 at 22:27

Hi Victoria
Sorry I didn’t read your reply
I was good friends with Micheal at Gravesend
If you send me your email address I will send you a list of all our class mates..
Micheal was top deck trainee in our class .. my email address is I live in Colchester Essex
I did see the Royston Grange about 6 months after the disaster, I was on the Port Alfred… Something I’ll never forget .
Regards John


alison booth
May 12th, 2021 at 15:47

Hi All,
My name is Alison Booth, and my brother Stewart Third was sadly one of the crew aboard the Royston Grange.

I attended a memorial service in London at ALL Hallows church (by the tower) in 1972 when i was 12yrs old, with my parents and other members of my family.
Before my parents passed away, they expressed a wish for me to go out to Montivideo and visit the grave. So in 2012 i contacted a lady called Diane Beare, who had liased with a lot of the families at the time of the tradgedy, and i asked if there were any plans to have some kind of rememberance? She then asked for the help of other people in Montivideo, and they organised such a lovely memorial service in the chapel at the cemetery! Diane put me in touch with David Watkins, who had also lost his brother Hugh, and we travelled together. We also met up with Alan Hawley who had also lost his brother, and had travelled out for the service.
It would be a nice tribute to all who lost their lives, to organise some kind of memorial on the 11th May 2022.

Please feel free to contact me on my email

Kindest regards
Alison x


John Clarry
May 30th, 2021 at 12:36

Hello all Royston Grange relatives and friends.
I recall my days when I was 4th Mate on the the Blue Star ship “Argentina Star”. We were berthed in an adjacent berth to the Royston Grange in the Royal Victoria dock, the crews of both vessels used to rub shoulders in the local pubs, having our last pint before going deep sea. Both ships were on the same South American service and as such there was a good natured rivalry between us. I remember she sailed from the dock twenty four hours before us and we waved each other goodbye as she passed outward bound.
Eventually we sailed from Montevideo for BA, down the very narrow and shallow channel and passed the Royston Grange in the dark in the early hours, as she headed back to Montevideo. We berthed in B.A later that morning to be greeted with the tragic news of the collision and the unbelievable news that all had perished. Ten days later we returned to Montevideo to see the wreck of the Royston still smouldering in the Roads.
Some months ago I made a trip down memory lane to the royal docks to visit old haunts etc. I passed by the Royston Granges last berth, with those memories still fresh in my head, where a floating hotel is now berthed and was saddened to see that there was no plaque or mention of that ship or the men who lost their lives in her. This needs to be corrected, possibly headed by NUMAST or the RMT. There are many memorial or other historical information in the dock area, but one to this ship and it’s crew should be there for all to see.
I lost a sea school cadet friend on the Derbyshire, another ship lost with all hands.
When in London I always visit the MN Tower Hill memorial gardens, to pay my respects and to be honest emotions run high.
I for one shall not forget them.


alison booth
June 17th, 2021 at 19:59


Following on from my previous post, I can now confirm that there will be a service to Commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Royston Grange tragedy. It will take place at All Hallows by the Tower on the 11th May 2022. We are hoping to reach out to any family members, who would like to attend? Hopefully we can extend this invitation to friends as well.
It will be an opportunity for us all to remember our loved ones in the place where the memorial service was held in 1972.
If anyone can help us in our quest to contact families, or friends, who would like more information, could you please contact either myself Alison Booth at: or David Watkins at

Kindest regards
Alison x


June 23rd, 2021 at 14:39

Hi everyone,

I hope you are all well.

Just to let you all know we have arranged a memorial service to mark 50years of the Royston Grange tragedy. For anyone that would like to attend the details are below:

14.00pm 11th May 2022 at All Hallows’ by the Tower

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions with myself or Alison (above)

Stay safe



Alison Booth
June 23rd, 2021 at 22:33

Thank you Victoria for announcing the details of the memorial service.
David Watkins is also in the process of trying reach out to anyone who would like to attend.
Our aim is to ask if anyone can put us in touch with any relatives, who lost their loved ones, so that we can contact them directly. That’s something we would love to be able to do.

If anyone would like to attend, or knows of anyone else, could you please email me

Kindest regards


Carl ward
September 12th, 2021 at 14:45

Hello, does anyone know the name of the captain on the Royston Grange.
Kind regards


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