25. Spontaneous Compostion

No, this is not a spelling mistake from the subject line but a bad pun. (Is there any other kind of pun?) The Russo-Finnish barque Ymer caught fire and exploded in 1910 while at anchor with a cargo of “organic manure”. (See WOTW 6 on the Venscapen for more on Russo-Finnish barques.)

Spontaneous combustion of cargo occurs occasionally in the record. Hay is one known offender in this respect, with approximately 6 known hay barges lost to fire, and coal is another. Naturally, it is combustible, or it would not have been intended to be burnt as fuel, but it was somewhat unexpected to find it burnt prior to delivery!

A collier exploded in this way before she even left the Tyne with her cargo in 1857. More worryingly, another collier caught fire at sea in the Downs en route from Hartlepool for Dieppe in 1873.

There were other examples elsewhere, and the situation was deemed serious enough for a Royal Commission on the Spontaneous Combustion of Coal to be set up in 1876, which looked, among other things, at whether different types of coal were more subject to spontaneous combustion than others. It seems that the cause was often inadequate ventilation in cargo holds.

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