At the time, it was the worst peace time disaster on the high seas, second to the Titanic. Dara set off from Bombay on March 23, 1961, and after making stops at ports including Muscat, Dubai, Bahrain, Abadan and Basra, had arrived back at Dubai on April 7. On board in cabins were a handful of first-class passengers and perhaps 50 in second class; the majority of the 560 passengers slept on the decks.
The ship is travelling between the Arabian Gulf and the Indian continent, carrying expatriate passengers employed in the Gulf States. On April 8, 1961, it caught fire off the port of Dubai in the Persian Gulf. Dara had about 580 passengers on board, among them many women and children, 19 officers and a crew of 113. More than 500 people were rescued by other vessels and landed at Bahrain, many with severe burns and injuries. According to Victor Coppleson, “some of the survivors said to have been attacked by sharks.”
Apart from the ship’s officers, who were British, nearly all the passengers and crew were Indians, Pakistanis, or Coast Arabs. In all, 238 people perished from burns, drowning or shark bites. Dara had sailed from Bombay on May 23, 1961 on a round trip to Basra, calling at intermediate ports. It arrived at Dubai on April 7 and was unloading cargo, embarking and disembarking passengers, when a windstorm prevented further work.
( Al Mannai one of Bahrain merchants injured)
Captain Elison decided to take the ship out of the harbor to ride out the storm. There was no time to disembark persons on board who did not intend to travel. These included relatives and friends seeing off the passengers, vendors, cargo laborers, and shipping and immigration officials. The ship was returning to port after the storm, at about 4 o’clock in the morning of the 8th, when there was an explosion between decks. Fire broke out in the decks and the ship was rapidly ablaze. Several lifeboats were rendered useless and passengers flung themselves into the sea, clung to rafts, or crowded into the lifeboats available. More than 500 people were picked up by vessels that speed to the scene of the disaster in response to emergency calls, among them three British tankers and German, Japanese, and Norwegian ships. Naval detachments from three British frigates and a US destroyer were put on board Dara and succeeded in bringing the flames under control after many hours. As reported in www.sharksattackfile.net
Eyewitness Account: Aftermath of Dara’s explosion and Sinking
“We homed in on smoke from the burning ship and arrived at the scene of the disaster about 30 miles north of Dubai. A small tanker was standing by a hundred yards away, but we had no way of contacting it. We saw several bodies floating in the sea around the ship and a few large sharks cruising among them. At that time we didn’t know that 238 lives had already been lost. We had been airborne for four and half hours when we landed back in Bahrain. As reported in www.dubaiasitusedtobe.com
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“It has not been a life without drama. Including an incident in which her family back home gave her up for dead, after a tragedy at sea. “There was no plane in those days. We had to travel by ship,” said Carmin. She was due to go home on leave aboard the illfated Dara, which sank after an explosion off Dubai en route from Bahrain to India, on April 8, 1961, with 238 lives lost but fate intervened. “Somehow I could not travel on that scheduled date,” said Carmin. “My family in India had been informed of my arrival by letter, but tragically most of the people who travelled by that ship drowned. “The news reached my people and they even conducted a memorial service in my honour. “Then on a fine morning, I reached my home town, to the surprise of all. A reincarnation of Carmin.” As reported by Gulf Daily News, local Bahrain newspaper.
(Distribution of compensation for the injured)