The Dutch ocean liner Hooft, plagued by rats, burned three times and cursed by a French shipyard that lost 3 ocean liners to fire between 1930-1933.

Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire (ACL), the jinxed French shipyard. Three of their ocean liners burned
between 1930 and 1933.

Between 1930-1933, one French shipbuilder lost 3 ocean liners to fire. One ship, the Hooft didn’t go down without a fight. She burned three times before she finally died.

At 10am on 20 December 1925, a huge fire broke out insidethe MS Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, an ocean liner under construction at Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire (ACL), a shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. The fire, extinguished by noon caused huge damage. All the officers cabins on one deck, the saloons on another and, on a third deck, all the passenger cabins were destroyed. The cost of the damage was estimated at over a million francs and the Hooft’s launch was delayed for a year. FIre investigators uncovered the dead body of the ship’s guard. He was in the hold with a broken neck. Perhaps, thought the investigators, the man had fallen whilst rushing to report the fire. That would explain how the fire had grown so big, and spread so fast. The guard didn’t raise the alarm beacuse he was dead. How the fire began remained a mystery. It was to be the first of three fires on the Hooft. It wouldn’t however, be the last fire on a ACL built ocean liner. This was just a little one. The beginning.

TheGeorges Philippar, burned and sunk 16 May 1932.

Seven years after the Hooft shipyard fire, another ACL-built ocean liner, the Georges Philippar, was 145 nautical miles (269 km) off Cape Guardafui, Italian Somaliland on 16 May 1932, when fire broke out in one of her luxury cabins. A spark from a faulty light switch ignited wood paneling in the first class cabin of one Mme Valentin. A Soviet tanker and a French passenger ship rescued 580 people and 54 were lost.  Drowned or burnt alive. The burnt out hulk of the Georges Philippar finally sank in the Gulf of Aden, three days later. She was on the return leg of her maiden voyage. An enquiry into the fire concluded that “a malfunction in the high voltage DC power grid of the ship” caused the fire.

The smouldering Hooft is towed away from Amsterdam on 14 November 1932,
so that the 1,000 tons of fuel inside her won’t cause a disaster.

Six months later, on 13 November 1932 the Hooft was laying in a dock at the port of Sumatra Kade in Amsterdam without a soul on board. It flew one large yellow flag with three black crosses to signify no-one should enter it. The Hooft was being decontaminated after an outbreak of rats on board. Earlier that day, every door and every porthole on the ship had been closed and hydrogen cyanide had been pumped in. At 6pm the gas was thought to have its work and all possible measures were being taken to quickly purge the ship of the highly poisonous air inside it. Now every single door and porthole had been opened. A lone guard entered the ship at 10.15pm to power up the dynamo, the fans and the ventilation system.

The Hooft fire(s) just getting started.14 November 1932,

At 12.20am on the 14th, the guard on board and two guards walking on shore all spotted a fire in the first class cabins behind the bridge. With no closed doors or bulkheads to stop it, and an brisk easterly wind blowing through the ship’s empty corridors to fire it, the fire spread rapidly. It soon reached the saloons, then the first class stairway, dining room and the bridge. Within 40 minutes the whole midships was ablaze. Amsterdam’s fire department poured an enormous amount of water into the Hooft from two boats and firefighters on shore. So much water was poured into her that the Hooft actually listed under the weight of it. Still the fire raged and by 2.30am the fire reached rear of the ship and any real fight to save her was over. With over 1,000 tons of fuel inside the Hooft, it was decided to tow her out to sea to avoid a potential catastrophe on shore. At 4.30am, as the five tugboats towing her reached the agreed point at a series of boys just offshore from Schellingwoude, the oil aboard the Hooft took fire. It was thought best to leave the ship there to burn out. It wouldn’t be that simple. 

Two days later, work began to float the 14,000 ton Hooft so that she could be sold for scrap and towed way. Divers were fixing up underwater holes in her hull and men were trying to pump an estimated 16,000 tons of water from her while others closed up portholes with iron plating in case she suddenly listed even further.By 8 December there were about 40 men working on the wreck. One of these men was cutting holes to bring in the pumps closer to the water line which was lowering all the time as the ship rose out of the water. To reach one tank that was full of water, this tried to cut off an oil pipeline. With a blowtorch. A single spark hit a hidden well of oil in a starboard bunker and by 10am the ship was burning away again. All the workmen swiftly fled the ship.This fire lasted another day & was quenched on 9 December 1925. It was to be the last. Almost.

On 17 November the fire suddenly increased in intensity again. The stern had by now sunk to the seabed, but the blazing bow was still afloat due to the air in its bulkheads. A last fire erupted on the 21st, and after quenching it, the fire department declared that the fire was finished.But the Hooft was nowhere near finished with fire. The next day, a pocket of oil locked deep within the bow section flared up. Once this had been quenched this fire was out. For now. The Hooft had burned for 232 hours. Almost ten days.

TheSS L’Atlantique, ablaze on4 January 1933, almost 2 months after the Hooft fire.
TheSS L’Atlantique, fire off the coast of Guernsey,
4 January 1933.

Just under 2 months after the Hooft burnt in Amsterdam, on 4 January 1933, the ACL built liner, SS L’Atlantique, was traveling between Bordeaux and Le Havre to be dry docked for repairs when she caught fire about 25 miles (40 km) off Guernsey. The fire spread rapidly, killing 19 of the crew. By early morning the ship’s captain, Rene Schoofs, ordered the crew of 200 to abandon ship. After the fire, which took four days to extinguish, the bodies of another five of her crew were found in the lower part of the ship. Only two were identifiable.

In the last phase of her existence, the Hooft became something of a tourist attraction. She’d been floated and towed to Pernis, near Rotterdam where she waited to be scrapped. Hundreds came to visit her but were turned away from going on board, it being too dangerous. By December 1932, measures had been put in place to enable visitors to go aboard the now famous wreck. She was now open to visitors for two weeks, from 10 in the morning till 4:00 pm and closed on Sundays. The entree fee was 1 guilder, and the maritime tourist service Spido offered combined travel and Hooft entry tickets for 1.40 guilders. She received her last guests on Saturday 7 January. By then over 3,700 people had visited her.

The breakers, who had already sold many of the still usable parts of the ship then started taking her apart on 9 January. At the shipbreaker yards, there was one final fire on the Hooft on 14 January 1933. 

Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire.

Three ocean liners burn in under three years, all built at Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire (ACL).

1. The Georges Philippar, burnt 16 May 1932, off Cape Guardafui, Italian Somaliland

2. The MS Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, burnt 14 November 1932, off Amsterdam.

3. The SS L’Atlantique, burnt on 4 January 1933. off Guernsey.

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