My name is Ann Downey and I live in Mississauga,
Ontario, Canada. My father originally came from Ballycarry,
County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He met my mother in
1953 while she was on holiday in Northern Ireland, and
then followed her back to Canada in 1954 where they
were married. They have lived in Canada ever since.
My father's name is Robert Gamble Downey. He worked
for Harland & Wolff, and in 1947 at the age of 21,
was working in the engine room when the explosion on
the Reina Del Pacifico occurred.
My father was a survivor of the accident in 1947. He
will be 78 years old on May 24th of this year. He is
now retired but his working life was spent in boiler
machinery. We were all raised with many fascinating
stories as well as the tragic accident of 1947. (In
addition, we were also told that my great-grandfather
worked on the building of the Titanic.)
I have enclosed three excerpts, one from the Maritime
IT and Electronics Journal Jan/Feb 2003 issue, the second
from the official inquiry "Report of Court",
No. 7951, and third, from The Belfast Weekly Telegraph,
September 19, 1947. I thought you may find them of interest.
Maritime IT & Electronics Jan/Feb 2003
"An unfortunate ‘9/11’ from an
earlier age —11 September 1947 — On the
day in question a bearing failure in the port outer
engine on passengership Reina del Pacifico, engaged
in sea trails after a refit in Belfast, caused a crankcase
explosion in that engine. Hot mist and combustion products
ingested into the other three diesels caused those engines
to explode too.
The resulting carnage left 28 dead."
From the official inquiry into the accident,
"Report of Court", No. 7951, adds the following
"The Reina del Pacifico, built and engined
by Harland & Wolff in Belfast in 1931, had been
owned by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company for 17
years at the time of the accident. Since her delivery,
she had been employed as a passenger liner between the
United Kingdom and the west coast of South America except
for a period during the Second World War when she was
requisitioned as a troop transport by the British Government.
Classified 100A1, the ship was certified to carry 886
passengers and 301 crew, and was registered at the port
The accident occurred approximately 7 miles north
east of Copeland Island in the North Channel of the
Irish Sea at 16:46 on 11 September 1947."
The Belfast Weekly Telegraph reported a week
after the accident, on 19 September 1947:
"In an instant the engine room was a shambles,
the lighting extinguished, ladders and access platforms
destroyed and the atmosphere thick with smoke. When
rescuers entered the engine room they found fires breaking
out and bodies everywhere. The appalling result was
that twenty-eight people died, either instantly or from
their injuries, and a further twenty-three were hurt.
"HEROIC SERVICE ... For three hours, Dr. Hamilton,
in his first medical appointment, worked like a Trojan.
He had himself lowered into the devastated engine room
and with the assistance of the First Officer waded knee-deep
in oil and other debris while striving to free those
who were trapped. Then he organised a first aid service
in the second class lounge, while stewards tore sheets
and tablecloths into bandages. He is estimated to have
bandaged nearly 60 men himself."
"RELATIVES' VIGIL . . . It was an anxious
day for relatives of those on the ship last Friday.
Many made a round of the hospitals and the city mortuary
seeking friends. At one time five bodies were unidentified
at the mortuary, but by Saturday afternoon all had been
"From all parts of the United Kingdom letters
of sympathy have [sic] been received. For several days
the Union Jack at the City Hall was flown at half mast.
Sympathy to the relatives of the bereaved was also expressed
by the Prime Minister, Sir Basil Brooke ...."
My parents have a home in Whitehead, County Antrim
where they go on holiday twice a year. They are here
at present as well as myself, my sister and her husband
and family. Our parents are celebrating their fiftieth
wedding anniversary this year, and we have all come
to Ireland to celebrate with them.
click here to go
YPAM Harland and Wolff pages
here to read how the Reina del Pacifico was used
during one wartime passage to Ceylon.
here to read 'Forgotten Deaths on the Titanic'.
(photo of Reina Del Pacifico
courtesy of Merv Wildy at http://members.dodo.net.au/~mervynw/)