Take a ship filled with explosive vapours, an unshielded portable electrical pump designed to run on 110 volts but plugged into a 220 volt supply, and crew wearing Bermuda shorts and shirts of synthetic materials and the result is fairly predictable. So it was that in the port of Recife a blast set off by an over-heated pump ripped through the 75 gross tonne Praia do Sancho, a fishing vessel converted to a bulk liquid and general cargo carrier,flinging part of the main deck over the roof of a nearby warehouse to land 30 metres away from the dock.
The chief engineer, whose flimsy clothes were blown off, and an electrician who were in the engine room survived the blast itself but suffered 95 per cent burns across their bodies which they could not survive. Two other were injured: the cook, who was in the galley above the engine room, and a worker on deck who was blasted into the water.Previously the vessel carried biodiesel, gasoline and general cargo including 250 canisters of kitchen gas. These were discharged at the island of Fernando de Noronha and Praia do Sancho returned to Recife where a new switchboard was to be fitted.
A portable electric pump, used for the first time, was used to pump gasoline residues from the cargo tanks ready for cleaning, the cargo pump being inoperative due to the work being out to replace the switchboard. One of the tanks had previously been seen to be leaking and a temporary repair made.
No testing was done to determine levels of explosive vapour aboard and inadequate ventilation led to a build up of explosive vapours in the relatively contained space.