The Corinthos

The Corinthos

On January 31, 1975, when I was nineteen and five years before I worked at the BP refinery, there was a terrible accident there. The Edgar M. Queeny, a 660 foot tanker loaded with specialty chemicals rammed the Corinthos, a larger vessel that was unloading crude oil at the refinery's dock. The Quenny was a U.S. registered ship. The Corinthos, a Liberian registered vessel with a Greek crew, caught fire almost immediately but the Queeny, with only minor damage to her bow, maneuvered away before the chemicals she was carrying could ignite.

S/T Corinthos ablaze in the Delaware River - February, 1975

The collision happened just after midnight on Friday. By Saturday night, when I was out with Chuck Farmer, who was a co-captain, along with me, of our high school football team, the fire was raging and had become the largest ever in the Philadelphia area. Chuck and I wanted to see it close-up so we drove to Marcus Hook.

At first it seemed that there was no access to vantage points anywhere near the shore but we didn’t give up. After parking the car on Post Road (Rt. 13) on the north side of the refinery property we climbed the fence and taking advantage of the darkness and concealing ourselves behind whatever obstructions presented themselves when we saw any workers or guards we moved south to the river. There were pipelines and railroad tracks to cross, more fences to climb and men to hide from but the fire was very compelling so we kept going until we could feel the heat. In fact we were so close it was because of the heat that we eventually had to leave.

Flames five-hundred feet high rose from the broken ship and the surface of the water was on fire from the oil floating on it. The smoke was boiling black and rolling with the orange flames. It was an amazing sight but we weren’t satisfied with the view so we climbed the stairs to the top of one of the largest tanks in the tank farm adjacent to the water. After reaching the top we walked out on the tank roof and then to the edge where we dangled our legs over the side, opened the whiskey we brought with us and watched.

The heat that eventually drove us away wasn’t just from the fire. The tank and its contents had been baking all day and the heat it radiated made our legs sweat.

We took a shorter route back out of the refinery and nearly got away clean but when we climbed the last fence and were on a city street two workers in hard hats confronted us. They saw us climb the fence so they knew we'd been trespassing and they tried to stop us, telling us to get in their truck. It led to a short fight but they couldn’t hold us. With the exception of my cut lip no one got hurt.

One day, after I had been working at the plant for awhile and knew it well, I retraced the route I’d taken that night. To my horror I found that I had walked through the acid plant and past super heated steam lines, two of the most dangerous things in the refinery and I also knew by then that you should never walk on the roof of a crude oil tank because if it’s corroded you could break through. Drowning in oil and darkness seems a particularly bad way to die.

Since then whenever someone has made the comment about the things that you don’t know not hurting you I recall that night and what I didn’t know.

4 comments

  • Andy C. says:

    Hi Rob,

    I was searching for info on the Corinthos disaster and found your page. I was about 6 when this happened, growing up in South Jersey. I remember this on the news, watching it with my dad. It amazes me that such a huge event is so hard to find on the internet. I know I once saw a Coast Guard report somewhere on the net about this; I wish I had downloaded it. It was a very thorough writeup of the incident, how it happened, who was involved, and all that.

    I also got a kick out of reading about your adventure hopping the refinery fence and drinking on top of oil tanks. Me and my friends also did a lot of stupid things like that growing up in the days before security cameras were omnipresent. Amazing so many of us lived to adulthood.

  • Dave Seaholm says:

    Rob, you probably don’t remember me, but I lived two houses away from you for one year on Lori Lane and graduated in your class at Concord. I can’t even remember how I got to your site…one thing leads to another, and boom, suddenly you run into something interesting and you forget how you got there. In this case, it was your enjoyable stories.

    The stories stand by themselves as interesting tales, but they were much enhanced by the fact that I could relate to them because there were some connections. I lived at the Delt House at UD with Chuck Farmer, for instance, and remember him very well. I remember Rob Hall telling me a story about Chuck that the first time he kissed his GF in high school — it was Linda Anderson, whom I knew from classes together — he farted right in the middle of the kiss. Chuck was a character, to be sure.

    I also took a skydive at Pelicanland, in 1977…just the one, which was exactly what I wanted to do and nothing more. My instructor was also Mac. I can distinctly remember him telling us that “It takes 23 seconds for this to become a contact sport if your main chute does not open and you can’t get the reserve to go either.’

    I was a sort of fan of yours when you were wrestling, partly because I was attending Concord and they were the home team, and also because you were a neighbor….even though I did not know you. I remember that there were really two guys in regular meets that were supposed to be tough matches for you. One might have been a guy from Conrad, though I’m not sure. The other was a guy from William Penn who was undefeated at the time (as was the other guy, I think), and while I think you were supposed to win that one, you either won it by a big margin or pinned him. What I remember most, though, was how totally disconsolate the guy was after the match.

    I’ve been to Madrid a couple of times, the first being on a Concord school trip with Spanish class in that spring of ’73. I did not lose my passport there, but I did lose it in Greece a few years later. We were on Mykonos, and I was a little drunk and don’t know if I actually lost it or if someone lifted it from me. I remember ordering a Black Russian in a club and they completely filled about a 12-oz glass with vodka, Kahlua, and Tia Maria…and they did not exactly pack it with ice. There was no urgency concerning beverage cost in that place, and I only needed two of those. I suspect that that sort of generosity probably does not exist in such places these days.

    Finally, I have to ask…how much of your writing prowess was developed under the tutelage of one Mr. Dunkelberger in “language arts” class — as it was called then — at Concord? Do you remember his class?

    In any case, Rob…..best wishes and thanks for the good stories.

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