The Braer Disaster (Last Hours)
The Last Hours of the Braer
Loading the Braer in Mongstad, Norway, was delayed due to some repair work that had to be carried out. When she left Mongstad on January 3rd weather conditions were so bad that the Norwegian pilot was unable to leave the ship at the usual area. He left the ship earlier, giving the master a rough course for Shetland.
Throughout her voyage the Braer was about 4 to 5 miles south of her planned route but that should not cause any problem even in bad weather conditions.
After the first corrections of the course to meet the North Fair Isle Channel properly, the crew had the first problem with the main generator powered on diesel. When the output of the generator became critical, measures were taken to switch the main engine from heavy oil to diesel so that the generator could be switched off for repairs.
This was done and was, so far, a standard procedure. What nobody could predict at that time was the fact that the crew would be unable to get the generator restarted. The main reason for that was that they found quite obvious salt water contamination in the fuel lines.
During the very early hours of January 5th the output of the main engine, which had now been running on diesel for hours, declined. At this time and only a few miles south of Sumburgh Head the master decided to go for a secure anchorage for repairs. He choose the Moray Firth and set a new course southeast to south heading for the Scottish Mainland.
At about 04:40 hrs on January 5th the main engine went down and with no generator working the ship was without normal electricity supply and also, amongst other things, without electronic navigation systems. At this time the Braer was at an estimated position some 10 to 11 miles south of Sumburgh Head.
She then started her drifting voyage towards the Shetland coast following wind and tidal conditions.
By about 06:00 hrs the two fishing vessels Treasure and Philorth had the first radar contact with the Braer. They found her showing two red lights only, further north and drifting faster than her master had calculated. Both vessels ran to the Brear and stood by to assist in case of further emergencies.
At 06:25 the Braer transmitted an XXX Urgency message on 500Khz giving a position and advising that she was without main power and radio communication was on emergency power. Shetland Coastguard broadcast a PAN PAN Urgency message to all ships in the area on VHF Channel 16. Four minutes later the Philorth reported that she was close to the Braer with Sumburgh Head at 017° and only 5.2 miles from her.
At 06.54 hrs evacuation of all non essential crew was started by the Sumburgh helicopter R117 and about two hours later the last crew left the Braer.
At 08:40 hrs everybody thought that the Braer would ground on Horse Island but then the tide drove her first to the east and then to the south again and thus out of the West Voe of Sumburgh. About 1 hour later the Braer again was on a north-northwesterly drift going round the southern tip of Horse Island and crossing the mouth of Bay of Quendale.
At 10:55 hrs R 117 was back on the scene carrying the master, the chief officer, the bosun and the superintendent of the Braer as well as Shetland Islands Council's port safety manager and a marine pilot from Sullom Voe. The winchman, followed by the port safety manager and the superintendent were landed on the after-deck of the Braer. Between two attempts to fix a rocket line fired from the "Star Sirius" the chief officer landed on the Braer. The men managed to grasp the second rocket line from the "Star Sirius". They then attempted to fix a rope messenger to the Braer. They were in full action when the Braer struck the rocks. The attempt had failed.
According to the official MAIB-Report at the time given as 11:19 hrs the Braer grounded at Garths Ness.
For more detailed information see the following Shetlopedia pages:
- An Eyewitness Account
- Technical Information about the Braer
- The last Hours of the Braer
- The Oil Spill
- Additional Pics (not used on single pages)
More pages about different aspects may be added later.