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.


57 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.


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