Halifax Explosion

Definition - What does Halifax Explosion mean?

The Halifax Explosion was a maritime disaster that occurred the morning of December 6, 1917, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The explosion occurred due to a collision between the Norwegian ship SS Imo and the French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc, the latter of which was laden with high explosives.

The resulting explosion was the largest man-made detonation to occur before the development of nuclear weapons, and it was responsible for the deaths of approximately 2,000 people, as well as an estimated 9,000 additional injuries. The deaths and injuries were caused by a combination of the blast itself and the fires, structural collapses, and projectile debris that resulted from the blast.

Safeopedia explains Halifax Explosion

The Halifax Explosion occurred during the First World War, a time during which there was heavy traffic within Halifax Harbour, where the blast took place. The collision occurred due to a series of navigational challenges and decisions that resulted in the Imo traveling out of the harbor on the opposite side of where outgoing ships normally traveled. These problems were partly the result of the Imo captain’s decision to depart without first receiving authorization from the Halifax Harbour Master. Additionally, despite her highly explosive cargo, no special precautions were undertaken to ensure the safety of the Mont Blanc or warn of her dangerous cargo.

The Imo and the Mont Blanc moved directly toward each other through the harbor, and after a series of miscommunications and misjudged maneuvers on both sides, the Imo struck the starboard side of the Mont Blanc, breaking open containers of explosive Benzol. Damage to the Mont Blanc was not severe, and because the Imo was unaware of the Mont Blanc’s cargo, the ship immediately tried to reverse course. This action created a large number of sparks, which ignited the Benzol fumes. After burning for approximately 20 minutes, the ship’s cargo exploded, killing 1,600 people instantly and creating a blast that was felt more than 129 miles (207 kilometers) away.

The result of the explosion affected transportation safety rules both locally and internationally. Locally, regulations related to travel through the harbor were tightened significantly. Internationally, the incident lead to the adoption of stricter maritime laws related to harbor control and to the identification of vessels carrying hazardous materials.

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