SS Empire Cross
|Operator:||Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd|
|Port of registry:||London|
|Builder:||Sir J Laing & Sons Ltd|
|Launched:||28 June 1945|
|Out of service:||2 August 1946|
|Fate:||Caught fire, exploded and sank|
|Class and type:||Tanker|
|Length:||344 ft (105 m)|
|Beam:||48 ft (15 m)|
|Propulsion:||Triple expansion steam engine|
Empire Cross was a 3,750 GRT tanker that was built in 1941 by Sir J Laing & Sons Ltd, Sunderland, Co Durham, United Kingdom for the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT). Sold into merchant service in 1946, she capsized and sank on 2 August following an explosion and fire at Haifa, Palestine.
Empire Cross was built for the MoWT. She was launched on 28 June 1945 and completed in November. The United Kingdom Official Number 181112 and Code Letters GKLF were allocated. She was operated under the management of the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd, London.
Empire Cross was completed in November 1945, by which time the MoWT had become the Ministry of Transport. She was sold in 1946 to the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co, who intended to rename her Balea. On 2 August, Empire Cross exploded and caught fire while discharging aviation fuel in Haifa Roads, Palestine. HMS Venus and HMS Virago assisted in the rescue. The Admiralty discounted a theory that the explosion was caused by a depth charge dropped by a British destroyer in an anti-terrorist measure to prevent the fixing of limpet mines to ships. Captain John Banks, in charge of the Empire Cross at the time, was on the bridge and observed the activity on the two naval vessels indicating personnel were aware of frogmen in the water around them, which indeed was probably the Haganah attempting to attach limpet mines, and he noted the sound of depth charges being dropped into the harbour around the vessels.
Twenty one of her crew of 56 were reported to be missing following the incident. Four other people were reported to have been killed. At the inquest, the page from the day's activities was missing from the log book of the suspect naval vessel, Virago. The crew were buried in Haifa. Captain Banks signalled to abandon ship when he saw the line go, and dived overboard, swimming under the flames until he lost consciousness, and was rescued by members of the Haganah. Empire Cross was scrapped in 1952.
The noted correspondent Clare Hollingworth, at the time reporting from Palestine to the News of the World, asserted that the Empire Cross was indeed blown up by the Haganah. A few days later a spokesperson for the Haganah phoned the paper and hotly denied the charge, accusing Hollingworth of being "biased and motivated by hatred". The issue was never conclusively clarified.
- Mitchell, W.H.; Sawyer, L.A. (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. p. not cited. ISBN 1-85044-275-4.
- "Empire Cross". Helderline. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
- "EMPIRE - C". Mariners. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
- "Haifa Tanker Explosion" The Times (London). Monday, 5 August 1946. (50521), col E, p. 3.
- Quoted in "The Prison Letters of Moshe Sharet" (in Hebrew) [ http://www.sharett.org.il/info/books/ayalon.pdf]. Sharet, imprisoned at the time by the British authorities, was a senior leader of the Labor Zionists, later Prime Minister of Israel