The 1932 Grounding of the Union Oil Tanker Santa Maria at Victoria BC

by John M. MacFarlane 2013

The oil tanker Santa Maria was built in 1922 in Port Glasgow for the Union Oil Co. home–porting in Los Angeles. Her dimensions were (460' x 60.3' x 35.5' 8088gt 4922rt).

Santa Maria

The Santa Maria hard aground on Glimpse Reef off Dallas Road in Victoria BC. (Photo from the Henderson Collection)

The tanker had discharged her cargo of oil at Vancouver and was on her outbound transit riding high for her next port of call in San Pedro under the command of Captain Andrew Moreland. Stopping east of Brotchie Ledge just after 3 am on May 17th, 1938 to disembark her pilot, Captain James Noel, she was hit by a heavy squall just as the pilot boat cleared her, forcing the vessel inshore under the influence of southwesterly winds in excess of 50 mph. With very little way on the ship the winds easily pushed the near–empty tanker onto Glimpse Reef puncturing her single hull in several places. Flooding occurred instantly with water overwhelming the forward sections, the No.3 tank and the pump room on the port side.

Santa Maria

The Santa Maria at low tide showing the big salvage tug Snohomish to the left of the stern of the tanker. (Photo from the Henderson collection.)

A number of things had to happen next – the Salvage King (owned by the Pacific Salvage Co. of Victoria) put a line on the tanker to keep the vessel from twisting around as she began to settle on the reef with the falling tide. At the same time, the on–board fuel was pumped over the side into the water creating a massive slick but lightening the vessel for the attempt to pull her free at the next high tide. It was imperative to unburden the ship to prevent further damage as she settled on the reef.

Santa Maria

The bow of the tanker Santa Maria riding ‘proud’ of the surface of the sea showing just how hard–aground she was at low tide. (Photo from the Henderson collection.)

The vessel being so close inshore generated immense interest and brought much of the population of Victoria to the waterfront to see the spectacle of the tanker below the bluffs. Police were called in to provide traffic control at peak viewing times!

Santa Maria

The Santa Maria being assisted off the rocks by the salvage tugs Anyox, Salvage King and Snohomish. (Photo from the Henderson collection.)

Sixteen hours later shortly before high tide at 7:15 pm, four tugs gathered at the vessel’s stern to pull the Santa Maria off Glimpse Reef. The tugs – Salvage King, Snohomish, Anyox and Salvage Princess – successfully wrested the tanker from the reef’s jagged rocks into deeper water. With the marine surveyors approval she departed Royal Roads on the evening of May 18th to continue her southbound journey, headed for San Francisco where repairs would be finalized. Damage to the vessel was reported to be $75,000.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2013) The Grounding of the Union Oil Tanker Santa Maria at Victoria BC. 2013.


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