Accidents happen, especially in times of war. Be it due to friendly fire, miscalculations, or maybe because of wrong decisions or unfollowed orders. However, some accidents could not be shrugged off, as the effects were too huge and devastating. The Halifax Explosion in Canada was one of them; when a naval accident caused an explosion so powerful that it flattened an entire city. While life goes on after some accidents, this one was different as the blast was heard throughout the globe, making headlines about the devastating effects of the accident.

Expert Mariners

Before the explosion made headlines all over the world on December 6, 1917, it all started with a collision at sea of two ships sailing with their own separate missions. The first was a Norwegian war-relief ship called the SS Imo. The second was the SS Mont-Blanc, a rusty French tramp steamer that was basically a floating bomb stuffed to the gunwales with almost 3,000 tons of picric acid, gun cotton, and TNT. Not only that but there were also hundreds of barrels of highly flammable benzol fuel piled high on her deck. As one veteran Royal Navy officer said later on, “I’m surprised that people on the ship didn’t leave in a body when they saw the nature of the cargo she had been ordered to carry.”

Both ships were about to begin their voyages in clear and mild weather, with calm seas, veteran harbor pilots guiding the ships, and two experienced mariners for captains. What could possibly go wrong?

The Collision

Going into or out of Bedford Basin past the city of Halifax required vessels to pass through a strait called the Narrows, which was, well, narrow. To prevent ships from colliding in the area, they were expected to keep close to the side of the channel and pass oncoming vessels “port to port.” They were also restricted to a speed of 5 knots (5.8 mph) within the harbor. Before 9 am, the SS Imo was headed to out to Halifax Harbour when she found that she was on a collision course with Mont-Blanc. They exchanged warning signals, and both of them cut their engines. Their momentum still carried them right on top of each other at a slow speed.