The Royston Grange memorial group have arranged a 50th anniversary memorial service  to be held at

All Hallows By The Tower Church London

on 11th May at 2pm.

Anyone wishing to attend should contact the group via the FaceBook  page here

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.


87 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


david freeman
September 24th, 2021 at 08:25

Dear reader, it is a very sombre, and vivid accident that occurred in 1973 to the Royston Grange.
As a past seafarer and BOT Surveyor, I would have expected the crew list with both name and rank? Alas this is not so! I cannot/one cannot revisit the accident and reissue accusations, and proportion blame, unless one was a witness to the actual events or an attendee at the ‘Official Enquirery; may I respectfully suggest.
One thing in passing, Name escapes me, but I served with The Master’s or C/E Son, whom I knew at my time with the MCA as an engineer surveyor.
However that was some time ago in the 70,s/80’s and memory does recall his name. The young man was most balanced and not bitter in mind! He just wished as I remember to better the life of all seafarers who serve under the ”Red Ensign” David Freeman


Bob Rowson
October 16th, 2021 at 21:41

Hallo to all subscribers.I sailed on the Royston Grange as a deckboy on my first trip to sea in MAY 1963.I recall vividly whilst i was on the ss Northern Star the news of the tragedy in 1972.I left England and migrated to Australia and joined the Australian merchant navy. One of the ships i served on was the Baulk carrier M.V. Australian Pioneer, the second mate [whose name was i cannot remember] Kevin? Had a cousin who was lost on Royston Grange I will, covid permitting endeavour to be in London for the memorial. Bob Rowson. R.785766.


January 24th, 2022 at 18:04

Hi All,

Following on from my previous post, we have arranged the 50th memorial on 11th May 14.00 at All Hallows’ by the Tower. There is a Facebook page that we are asking everyone who would like to attend to follow and respond to the event created within the group so we have an idea on numbers that would like to attend. If you aren’t on Facebook but would still like to attend please let myself, Alison or David know directly. (Contact details above). We hope to see you there.

Stay safe,



Paul Blackett
January 24th, 2022 at 22:35

Hello Victoria
Thanks for your posting
I served on the Roysten Grange
Unfortunately fell into the hold and thankfully survived.
After recovery, I was due to go back on the Grange and had orders to fly out to jion her but thank god a surgeon who was not happy about some medical issues stopped me from flying out to B.A. Then alas! a couple of days later the disaster was all over the news.
I am not family but would wish to attend the service to honour my friends if there is space


January 25th, 2022 at 10:56

Hi Paul,

I’m so pleased your surgeon kept you back, what a story you have!

The memorial is open to all, we look forward to seeing you there!

Take care. Victoria


Sue Watson
January 30th, 2022 at 11:38

Hi All
Thank you for the update information on the memorial service.
I have passed this on to family members and we will be attending
the service. At this time we think 10/12 of Leonard Bruce’s family
are intending to come.
Sue Watson


February 16th, 2022 at 17:46

I was only 4 when this tragedy happened but I can remember the day they left in a black taxi with my 6 year old aunt Teresa wearing a yellow dress with black polka dots. Will hopefully be at the remembrance.


Mary VALMAI Griffiths new Lewis
April 2nd, 2022 at 08:43

David COlIN Lewis was my brother known to his family as Colin and Curly to his friends. He was one of the youngest Persons to have a captaincy. My mother died of a broken heart and I am the only close member of my family left alive. I am hoping to go to London to the Memorial Service probably with my cousin


Kevin Campbell
May 1st, 2022 at 11:43

I relieved as 2nd mate on Royston Grange at Z shed in the Royal Victoria Dock immediately before the ill fated voyage. The master was George Boothby, the chief engineer was Terence Teppett, the chief steward was William Hagan and a good friend of mine Colin Craddock was chief officer. Colin has his wife and young daughter with him on the voyage. I visited the grave in the British Cemetery Montevideo in 2008 whilst on holiday there.


Kevin Campbell
May 1st, 2022 at 11:50

I also knew Eric Walsh AB on the Royston. Eric was a Falkland Islander. Not sure about one victim called Roy Mills ?? I knew a Ron Mills R/O on the Hardwicke Grange before the tragedy. Wonder if it is the same person with wrong Christian name.


Carlin Mutton
May 2nd, 2022 at 20:32

My Uncle Andrew was on the ship, it was his second trip with her, he was standing in for someone who was ill, it was going to be his last trip at sea, he was coming home to his fiancee to arrange their wedding. I was only 8 at the time, I will be attending the memorial service withy husband and my brother. His name was Andrew H James, 1st electrician.


Ray Gibbons
May 3rd, 2022 at 10:29

Hello Kevin, I can confirm that Radio Ron did not perish on the Royston as he was serving with me on the Hardwicke at the time of the tragedy. Henry Gittins was also on the Hardwicke with me on that voyage and was the first person to hear the news of the tragedy on the BBC world service. It was early afternoon, Henry had just gone off watch and I was on the bridge. At that stage we did not know the full extent of the tragedy. The Royston was in Montevideo when we arrived there and still burning in the holds. When we came back northbound the fires had been extinguished and some went on board but I am afraid that was too much of a bad experience for me to contemplate.
I did not personally know any of those who perished but I might have been one of them if I had trandfered from the Queensbury to the Royston in Buenos Aires in May 1971, Which Capt. Capon (then on the Queensbury) proposed I do due to the then 2nd mate of the Royston signing off sick in B.A.. This did not happen because I refused to go. I will not be attending the memorial service due to personal cicumstances, but I am sure I will be thinking about the tragedy on the 11th May, as indeed I have at times over the many years since. Since the demise of the Houlders 25 club & Covid scuppering the Furness lunches I have no longer seen any of the old shipmates and company personnel, but of course having never left the company through the transition from Houlders to Furness to Tung then Hamburg Sud, events and people are often thought about, including those who perished on the Royston even though none of them were known personaly to me. Last saw you Kevin at Houlders 25 club lunch when we talked about Henry Gittins amongst other things.
Ray Gibbons


raymond phillipson
May 12th, 2022 at 10:13

Attended service as former deck cadet, Paul Blackett sorry missed you remember your incident very well,knew you had recovered would have been good to catch up.
Ray Phillipson

January 17th, 2023 at 10:27

Iwas married to Andrew James who was a crew member on the Royston Grange I remember that that terrible day.


August 16th, 2023 at 10:26

Carlin Mutton… My dad was Andrew’s friend and I was named after him. Just thought you’d like to know.


Frederick J Curran
November 6th, 2023 at 10:34

Read with interest the many e-mails associated with Royston Grange
Iserved as Radio Officer on board between 21 12 70 and 16 7 71
I knew all the officers who were onboard in the final voyage.
Ihave visited the English cemetery in Monte and found the experience very distressing. Remarkably, I met the R.G. in south atlantic on her passage to Barcelona for breaking up. I m now in the Autumn-Winter of life at ninety years young. The episode of R.G. remains with me down the years
and I refer tothe website on regular basis. Regards


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