Norwegian steamship SS Imo beached on the Dartmouth shore after the Halifax Explosion, 1918. (NSARM / negative: N-138)
|Owner:||White Star Line (1889-1895)
West India & Pacific SS Co. (1895-1889)
Frederick Leyland & Co. (1889-1912)
H. E. Moss & Co. (1912)
South Pacific Whaling Co. (1912-1921)
|Builder:||Harland and Wolff, Belfast|
|Launched:||1 January 1889|
|Completed:||16 February 1889|
|Maiden voyage:||21 February 1889|
|Identification:||Signal Code letters: MJGB
|Fate:||Wrecked on 30 November 1921|
|Type:||Cargo liner, whaling ship|
3,405 under deck
|Length:||430 ft 7 in (131.24 m)|
|Beam:||45 ft 2 in (13.77 m)|
|Depth:||30 ft 3 in (9.22 m)|
|Propulsion:||Triple expansion steam engine, 424 ihp (316 kW)|
|Speed:||12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)|
SS Imo was a steamship that served in passenger and freight trades and later as a whaling supply ship. Christened SS Runic, she was bought, sold and renamed numerous times during her career. In 1917, Imo was under Norwegian registry chartered by the Belgian Relief Commission to bring supplies to war-ravaged Europe. On 6 December, she was involved in a collision in Halifax Harbour with a French munitions vessel, SS Mont-Blanc, laden with a full cargo of highly volatile explosives. The resultant fire aboard Mont Blanc caused a catastrophic explosion that levelled the Richmond District in the North End of the city. (see Halifax Explosion). Though Imo's superstructure was severely damaged by the blast, the ship was repaired and returned to service in 1918. She was named Guvernøren in 1920 but ran aground off the Falkland Islands on 30 November 1921 and abandoned on 3 December.
Launched in 1889 as Runic for the White Star Line, she served as a cargo liner, designed to carry 12 passengers in addition to freight, mostly livestock. She was sold in May 1895 to the West Indies and Pacific Steamship Line and renamed Tampican. Tampican was transferred with the rest of the company's fleet to Frederick Leyland & Co. on 31 December 1899. She was sold in 1912 to H. E. Moss & Co., of Liverpool, but was almost immediately resold, to the Norwegian whaling firm, the Southern Pacific Whaling Company to serve as a whaling supply ship. Renamed Imo by the new owners, she operated out of the port of Christiana, Norway.
In 1917 Imo sailed as a charter for the Belgian Relief Commission. Being neutral, SS Imo sailed alone. Painted on her side were the words "Belgian Relief" to protect her from German submarines. Imo was sailing in ballast (empty) en route to New York to load relief supplies. Early on 6 December 1917, Imo left the Bedford Basin of Halifax Harbour where she had refuelled with coal and headed down the harbour for sea bound for New York to load her cargo of relief supplies.
Imo had a crew of thirty-nine men commanded by Captain Haakon From. At 430 feet in length but only 45 feet wide Imo was long and narrow. Because she was in ballast (without cargo), her propeller and rudder were nearly out of the water, making her difficult to steer. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine with a single 20 foot right-hand propeller able to make 60 revolutions per minute. Due to this propeller, the ship had a "transverse thrust", i.e. while making headway she veered to the left, in reverse she swung to the right. Under these conditions, Imo was at a disadvantage in navigating in tight quarters. "Due to the combined effect of transverse thrust and the length, and depth of SS Imo's hull, and its keel, she was difficult to maneuver".
Captain From, 47, was a native of Sandefijord, Norway and an experienced whaler. He spent more than twenty-five years at sea; the last twelve as captain. He had been to Antarctica twice and spoke fluent English. Several months before the explosion, Imo called on the port of Philadelphia with a shipment of grain. After a layover for repairs to her boiler and engine room she set sail down the Delaware River. Unfortunately, the captain refused to pay the bill to Scmaal Engineering Works for services rendered. Willard M. Harris, lawyer for the company and the president, Gustav Schmall, had gone aboard to collect the money owed. They were met by a hostile crew and Captain From refused to pay the money owed. The lawyer left to file a libel but made the mistake of leaving Mr. Scmall alone with the captain who then proceeded to assault the man and ended up throwing him through the cabin door. He later reported: "As soon as I regained my feet, I ran for my life!" After the ship left, Mr. Harris and a U. S. marshal travelled by car and a train in an effort to overtake the vessel. Harris hired a tug Newcastle and along with an American patrol boat, gave chase and finally overtook Imo. The captain was served papers and the ship was turned around and tied up at Christiana Creek at a cost to her owners of $2,000 per day. The captain's bond was $11.000. His appointed attorney, Allen Dawson offered the following explanation for the captain's behaviour: "The Imo's captain was intensely anti-German."
This incident was later brought up at the preliminary hearing after the Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry into the collision between Mont Blanc and Imo. The notion, of course, was to bring Captain From's temperament into question as it had been rumoured he was anxious to leave Halifax the night before the explosion and may have acted recklessly prior to the collision. The members of Imos crew who were called as witnesses had nothing bit praise and affection for their deceased captain and attested to his fairness and jovial spirit.
Soon after Imo left her anchorage in Bedford Basin and headed down the Narrows on Thursday morning, 6 December, she met the American tramp steamer SS Clara coming up the wrong side of the harbour. The two pilots agreed to pass starboard to starboard. Soon after this, the Norwegian ship had to avoid the tug, Stella Maris and her two scows. This incident forced Imo even further over towards the Dartmouth side of the harbour into the path of the on-coming SS Mont-Blanc a French cargo ship, fully loaded with a highly volatile cargo of wartime explosives. The French ship starboarded her helm (went to port) but at almost the same time, Imo reversed her engines and the head of the ship turned quickly to starboard and Mont Blanc's forward No. 1 hold. At 8:45 am, the two ships collided at slow speed in "The Narrows" of Halifax Harbour. When Imo disengaged from the nine foot gash caused by her prow, the sparks ignited a fire in the hold at the water line which quickly spread upwards because some of the crushed barrels of benzol had spilled onto the deck of Mont-Blanc. The French ship's crew was forced to take to her lifeboats and flee for their lives.Mont-Blanc made her own way on the slack tide over to Halifax and beached herself at Pier 6, where twenty minutes later, the fire detonated the cargo causing a huge explosion to the magnitude of 2.9 kilotons of TNT.
Approximately 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, or collapsed buildings, and it is estimated that over 9,000 people were injured. The explosion wrecked the upper decks of Imo. Three of the four open bridge personnel were killed: Captain From, Pilot William Hayes and R. Albert Ingvald Iverson, the first officer. John Johansen, the helmsman, was severely injured but survived. Four crew members were also killed: Harold Iverson (crewman), Oscar Kallstrom (fireman), Johannes C. Kersenboom (carpenter) and Gustav Petersen (boatswain). The blast and the tsunami that followed threw the ship ashore on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour.
The Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry carried out the official investigation into the cause of the collision. Charles Jost Burchell, a prominent Halifax lawyer, represented Imo's owners as he did in the lengthy civil litigation. The inquiry initially held Imo's crew blameless, and put the entire responsibility for the collision on the Mont-Blanc. However following appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada in May 1919 and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (22 March 1920), both ships were found to have made navigational errors and were found equally at fault for the collision and its consequences.
Imo was repaired after the explosion and returned to service. Renamed Guvernøren ("The Governor") in 1920, she served as a whale oil tanker until 30 November 1921, when the ship ran onto the rocks off the Falkland Islands. The ship encountered heavy fog and was grounded on rocks at Cow Bay two miles off Cape Carysfort approximately 20 miles from Port Stanley on East Falkland. No crew were lost. Salvage attempts were halted on 3 December and the ship was abandoned to the sea.
In 2005, a stamp was issued by the Falkland Islands, showing Imo. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia has an exhibit about the ship's role in the Halifax Explosion, which also displays some fittings from Imo including a dog collar from the ship's mascot.
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