The Pioneer Incident 1975 – Campbell Dobie 2nd/Eng Account

Roy Gerstner for LOF News 2007 ©


Campbell Dobie was the 2nd Engineer onboard the ‘London Pioneer‘ he joined LOF in 1972 was and is a very respected Marine Engineer. He now lives and works in Western Australia and holds a senior position as Power Station Controller for Verve Energy.

Here is his account of the sequence of events:

The following are my recollections of what happened on the night of 9th December 1975 from memory mostly. Also a few other things along the way. The ‘explosion’ took place at around 0130 Hrs as I recall, however 0150 Hrs may be correct. I was asleep in my cabin when awakened by a horrendous screaming and grinding noise accompanied by very high vibrations. The ship was shaking violently. I’d just jumped out of my bunk when Bob Pople (4th/Eng) came rushing into my cabin to tell me that there had been an explosion in the engine room and it was now on fire. I don’t recall when the ship blacked out but it must have been within two minutes of the explosion as a consequence of the damage. So the ship was completely blacked out.

Bob and I accompanied by I think, Eric Evans (Jnr/Eng) and maybe Geoff Robinson (Jnr/Eng) headed for the starboard side Engine-room door. However, we could see through the large windows that looked into the Engine-room that flames were shooting up through the Engine-room skylight. I asked Bob I think it was to guard the door to prevent access and wait for Harry (Pearson) the Chief to arrive and then inform him what we was going to do. I set off with Eric and entered the engine room via the crews boiler room door.

The next bit I remember very clearly. I met John Ireland as I stepped through the door. His first words were “Hello Sec”, I was just going to call you. He was clothed only in his jockeys and one sock. He was very singed; I could see he was badly hurt. I told him he should go see the Chief Steward for first aid and got him some help, however as senior watch keeper he insisted on telling me what had happened and handing the job over like any other watch before he would leave. His parting words as he was taken for medical assistance were; “This is going to hurt like #*!# in the morning”

The engine room fire party did there job well and managed to extinguish all the minor fires however the main fire was being fed by fractured lubricating oil pipes from the main oil storage tank and was proving difficult to put out. I made an attempt to activate a large foam fire extinguisher just inside the Engine-room door however my beard and the hair on my arms started to crackle and curling up with the heat so I retreated back into the boiler room. A short while after that the flames died down as the oil supply to the main fire ran out. With the fire out we did some essential work then evacuated the Engine-room and sealed it to shut off the air supply and reduce the chance of the fire restarting while we waited for it to cool down.

At some point during the above I remember doing a head count and checking on the engine room crew. The Serang had the crew line up in the ally way, all checked off and accounted for and in his words waiting for orders sir! They were a tremendous help, they did it all by the book and there professional approach to the situation made my job easier. The same situation existed with the Chief Officers fire crew. Carney had his crew at the ready on the main deck when I came out of the Engine-room for help.

I am aware that Phil Barber managed to radio for help despite having no ships power. Good old Phil always a gentleman. I sure that but for the help of Dick Drummond and the expertise of Sue Webber the Third Mates wife, John and his donkey man might not be here today.

We opened up the Engine-room and re-established ships electrical power by about 0630 hrs. It may have been a little later but 0630 sticks in my mind. I think the paramedics arrived on board sometime during the morning and John and the donkey man Sumand Desai were lifted off the ship and arrived in hospital late the same day.

We were eleven days adrift before the tug “Arthur Foss” picked up the tow.

The tow took thirty three days. The repairs were carried out by Mitsui’s Tamano shipyard, in Japan.

To assess the damage the Engine-room staff effectively stripped down the HP and LP turbines over four to five days while we were adrift. Photographic evidence and a report of the damage were forwarded to the company probably within a week of the incident but I’m not sure now of the time frame its a long time ago. The Fleet Superintendent Mr. Mackenzie was waiting for the ship when it tied up at the repair dock in Tamano. I recall he ordered me to lock the Engine-room doors to prevent access until he was able to facilitate a damage inspection by Lloyd’s surveyors. I did as I was asked but the Japanese repair crews simply cut off the engine room skylight and entered that way and before we could do anything there were large pieces of engine room machinery disappearing ashore. Super Mac was not pleased.

I can’t recall how long the repair took but when it was completed I sailed with the ship to Nakhodka to discharge the cargo of grain, I think it had started to grow by that time. After the discharge the ship returned to Japan where I paid off in Shikama on the 5th June 1976. It was a long ten month trip. Not down to the company though, I wanted to sail with the
ship after the repairs. It’s an Engineer thing you don’t hand over the job to the your relief until you’re happy it’s in good order.

I’ve thought of one thing you may like to follow up;

Directly after we sealed the Engine-room about 0300 Hrs. I interviewed all the Engineers and some of the Deck Officers, first as a group in my cabin then individually and wrote down a sequence of events and then each individuals version of the events and what we did. I did this because once people start to discuss events things become confused and maybe a bit embellished. These notes were a factual account of what happened and what individuals did. The notes were sent to the company (Mr Mackenzie) most likely by mail to assist them with assessing what the cause of the accident was and to help with insurance claims. That may still be on record somewhere with LOF.


Campbell Dobie

I am grateful to the many people who have made this article possible, notably:

Campbell Dobie 2nd Engineer London Pioneer.


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Note by the Web Editor Roy Gerstner The version given is only a short historical extract and if any further information or correspondence comes available this extract will be modified and updated. If any reader can correct any mistake or add details please feel free to contact me via the LOF Website. The article is subject to copyright and permission should be obtained before any part is used, copied, or transmitted in any format.

Roy Gerstner © March 2007 [email protected]