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Argo Merchant run aground.jpg
The Argo Merchant, run aground southeast of Nantucket. A silvery oil slick can be seen coming from the center holds.
Name: Argo Merchant, formerly Arcturus
Builder: Howaldtswerke, AG, Hamburg
Launched: 1953
Fate: Ran aground December 15, 1976
Status: Sunk, Destroyed
Notes: Comp 38
General characteristics
Tonnage: 18,743 grt
Length: 641.3 ft (195.5 m)
Beam: 84.4 ft (25.7 m)
Draught: 34.8 ft (10.6 m)
Speed: 16 Knots
The Argo Merchant breaking apart on December 21, 1976.

The Argo Merchant was a Liberian-registered oil tanker that ran aground southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, on December 15, 1976. Six days later, on December 21, the shipwreck broke apart, causing one of the largest oil spills in history.

The shipwreck

In December 1976, Argo Merchant loaded 7.7 million US gallons (29 million l) of No. 6 fuel oil at Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, sailing for Boston under Captain Georgios Papadopoulos. It was later established that the ship carried two unqualified crew as helmsmen, a broken gyrocompass, inadequate charts, and an inaccurate radio direction finder. At six p.m. on December 15, in high winds and ten foot (3 m) seas, the tanker ran aground on Middle Rip Shoal in position 41°2′N 69°27′W / 41.033°N 69.45°W / 41.033; -69.45 — about 25 nautical miles (46 km) southeast of Nantucket and more than 24 miles (44 km) off her intended course. The thirty-eight members of the crew were evacuated, but the shallow waters and weather conditions made it impossible to offload the oil or salvage the ship. On December 21, 1976, Argo Merchant broke apart and spilled its entire cargo of fuel oil, enough to heat 18,000 homes for a year. Fortunately, northwesterly winds blew the 60 by 100 nautical mile (111 × 185  km) oil slick offshore, and coastal fisheries and beaches were spared the worst.

Popular culture

The Argo Merchant featured in the category of 'The worst ship' in the 1979 publication The Book of Heroic Failures.




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