“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SS Dara

I remember reading somewhere about an indigenous people- Africa or South America or some place – they refuse to be photographed. They believe that their souls would be captured in the images and they would be damned forever.
Ruminating over the past, I recollect many faces. Some having some significance, some relation, some reason to remember. But curiously, there are so many others who had just passed through my life – a casual meeting, a glance- and their faces have been imprinted in my mind forever. I am, I guess, carrying a little bit of their souls in me...

When I was a little boy in the early 60s – it must have been in '64 or '65, an obituary used to appear in the Malayala Manorama Daily every year. I think it kept on appearing till mid-70s. Either I would have forgotten to look or it stopped being published. Anyway, I am sure that it hasn't come since the 80s. It was a black and white picture of a beautiful young mother with a western kind of hairstyle of the 50s. 

Those who are familiar with Phantom Comics would remember Ms Diana Palmer, Phantom's girl friend and later wife, who was an Olympic diver. It was kind of bobbed, fluffed above the forehead and reached upto shoulders. This lady had the same hairstyle as that of Diana. ( Now, my young friends, laugh if you wish, but Phantom was our staple diet in the 60's. Beautiful comic books, comic strips in Sunday edition of Malayala Manorma, in the Illustrated Weekly – how I miss Illustrated Weekly – every issue would carry one SINGLE picture of a scantily-clad woman – usually in a bikini – my sister and I would conspiratorially giggle looking at it - it was very rare to see the kind of pictures that are common now.

Sorry, I have digressed. This mother and child, yes. The box said - 'In Memoriam', above the picture. The mother sat slightly turned towards her left. The young child sat on her lap. I remember she had a beautiful profile. I have forgotten her name, but beneath the photo it said - SS Dara – 1961.

I remember I was fascinated by them. Every year they would appear and I would look at them longingly, with great pain. Then, after a few years, it must have settled down at the bottom of my heart, like a decaying leaf, gently, gently...

A couple of months back, I remembered them. I googled SS DARA and there it was! On 8th April 1961, the S S Dara was on its way from Bombay to Kuwait. After leaving Oman, just a few nautical miles off shore, it blew up. It is said that it was bombed by an Omani terrorist. The sea was rough, the captain couldn't turn the ship back to the harbour. Other ships came to the rescue, but 238 passengers perished. This is what a book on SS Dara’s mishap says : "The explosion of a bomb in Dara, a steamship of the British India Line, in the early hours of 8th April, 1961, when she was at sea in the Persian Gulf with 819 passengers on board, has been attributed to Omani rebels. It was an act of war in peacetime, and its victims were Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs - men, women and children Two hundred and thirty-eight people lost their lives in the flames or in the sea...

This young mother and child must have been passengers in it. I tried tracing them through a journalist friend in Malayala Manorama, but their archives haven't been digitized that way back; he has said he would give it a try. One day I casually mentioned this to my colleagues in the Bank, and Susan, in her late 50s, said she too remembered them. What a coincidence! Susan even remembered their names; Gloria and Sayu mol.

Sometime back I had written about how seemingly unimportant incidents cling on in our memory. A face there, a face here, a flower here, a breeze there. I agree with you when you pooh-pooh all this sentimental mush. Absolutely meaningless. Quite likely the lady's husband too would have passed away. There might not be any family. Even if there is, how many would remember or care to remember something that happened 50 years ago?

Well, I would, if you don't mind. SS Dara is part of my boyhood, my life. I wish they weren't dead, that beautiful mother and sweet child. I remember a young boy of 7 or 8 lying on the floor and reading the newspaper spread before him. His chin supported by the left palm, the right, holding down the paper, he swung his calves alternately and gazed at the picture with pain in his heart. I love that boy; therefore I cannot forget SS Dara.

********** Balachandran, Trivandrum, 09.03.2010


Ms Nabila Khanam, whose comment can be seen below sent me the following information about the SS Dara incident. Her aunts who are now no more,  were among the survivors of the mishap. I hope those readers who are searching on SS Dara would find it useful.  Among those who succumbed were fathers and mothers and family members of many amongst you. My prayers and condolences to all of you. May the departed souls rest in peace. 



M.V. Dara was a British Indian Steam Navigation Company liner, built in 1948, Barclay, Curle and Co; 5,030 tons 398.7 x 54.8; 14 knotts; oil engines.

Dara mostly travelled between the Arabian Gulf and the Indian continent, carrying expatriate passengers who had employment in the Gulf States. She had accomodation for 20 1st Class, 54 2nd Class and 1377 deck passengers.
A bomb exploded on board, while off the coast of Dubai, on the 8th April 1961 which caused the vessel to eventually sink. It was never clearly established who planted the bomb, or why, but there was a high loss of life attributed to the incident, despite the fact that no one was on board when it sank. At the time, it was the worst peace time disasters on the high seas, second to the Titanic. There is some conjecture that, due to the circumstances, the perpetrator of the crime may also have been on board at the time of the explosion. Captained by Charles Elson, there was a total of 819 on board, including 19 officers and 113 crew; 238 died from burns or drowning.
The vessel had sailed from Bombay on the 23rd May on a round trip to Basera, calling at intermediate ports. It had arrived at Dubai on the 7th April and was unloading cargo, embarking and disembarking passengers when a violent storm of wind and rain prevented further work. Capt. Elison decided to take the ship out of harbour to ride the storm. There was not time to disembark persons on board who did not intend to travel. These included relatives and friends seeing off the passengers, hawkers, cargo labourers and shipping/ immigration officials. It was while returning to harbour after the storm, at about 04.40 Hrs on the morning of the 8th, that there was a heavy explosion between decks (Click here to see plan) and the ship caught fire.
There was a certain amount of panic among the crew and passengers and many perished by jumping into the sea or by over crowded lifeboats, which capsized. There were several ships close at hand and help was given by British, German, Japanese and Norwegian vessels.
Three British frigates and a US destroyer, sent parties on board and were able to get the fire under control. Dara was then taken in tow by the the Glasgow salvage vessel OCEAN SALVOR, but sank at 09.20 Hrs on April 10th.

REPORT From HMS Buldog 22/05/70: -

The wreck lies in approximately 15 m of water and is in a 093°/273° direction with her bowes pointing East. It lies on its starboard side and the main mast is visible at 2m above mean high water.

RAF Search and Rescue: -

The following message was left in the guest book by Jack Frith on the 21/10/04. He has kindly agreed for me to repeat the message here, (thanks Jack).
I was the captain of the Search and Rescue Shackleton that was sent from Aden to search for and aid the Dara. The photograph that you are using was taken by one of my crew from the beam position on the aircraft when we arrived on scene. I dropped a Lindholm rescue gear (contained a dingy, food, water etc) to what appeared to be some surviviors in the water but since no effort was made to reach the gear it had to be assumed that we were too late. Seems a long time ago now.

First Hand Account of Events: -

The following is an abridged message left on the 13/12/06 by Peter Jordan, ex Chief Officer at the time on the Dara. (thanks Peter).
I was in fact chief officer on board that terrible night, so am fully aware of the sequence of events.
The explosion occurred outside the vishiwala galley which went through to the engine room bulkhead and up through 2 decks, which were the passenger and main lounge. Having checked, as best as possible, there was no way of containing the fire due to the fact that the bomb had disrupted all electrical, fire water and steering module, so we had no choice but to abandon ship.
Alarms by this time were already going off, crew were alerted and due to the weather, which was almost gale force, the fires spread rapidly. We launched lifeboats, but due to the panic, one lifeboat in particular, I recall, was overcrowded and overturned in the rough sea. Another life boat manned by the second officer Charlie ??(can't remember) had been damaged by a Greek Vessel which had dragged her anchor and collided with our bow and damaged the lifeboat and a few other parts of the ship some hours prior to the explosion! This lifeboat full of people, though almost sinking due to the damage, was rescued by a Norwegian Tanker's Lifeboat. This same Norwegian Tanker came steaming in despite the fact they were not gas free ( i.e. at high risk themselves of exploding) and saved many many lives including my own. I wish to thank them very much.
As for, dare I say it, the Empire Guillemot, we called her by Morse light and asked for help, but due to her cargo of bombs and explosives she could not and would not come close for fear of explosion; that is a fact!! She sat out there like, well I’m sorry there was no excuse, they were the nearest ship to us, and sat there, they could have steamed in, dropped some lifeboats and moved on, but alas did not. As for reports I have read, that they saved lives, well they did not, they may have had survivors picked up by the Norwegians transferred to their ship, but that is all.
I am 75 years of age now, so can speak freely of the events that occurred that night. I do not wish to incite any anger or change to what has been said and written, but facts are facts, and I can only say the truth as it was. I do not wish to put a damper on the Dara as a Dive site, however, for me at least she is Gravesite for all the people who lost their lives that terrible day and should be respected as such.
* Note by Clive: - While respecting Peter’s views regarding Dara being used as a dive site, and it may be appropriated to regard it as a memorial to those who died, it is my information that the ship had been boarded by US and British naval personnel, as explained above, and was in tow when it went down. As such it is assumed that all the crew and passengers had had the chance to leave the ship. There may have been the bodies of anyone killed by the blast, still on board but I can say that in almost fifty years the wreck has been dived, I had never heard of anyone coming across any remains.

Diving on Dara

In the late 70s and early 80s the writer was a member of the local diving club in Dubai and dived, with the other members of the club, on the wreck of Dara.
Many souvenirs were taken from the wreck at this time, in the way of portholes lanterns, and anything brass. One of these portholes now serves as opening in brick fireplace which views into a fish tank behind; another has been made into a clock. It is doubtful whether the wreck, to date, has anything left to be to relinquish. One of the club members' eventually bought the salvage rights of the wreck and by now there may be little left. (Perhaps anyone reading this, who knows the site and the current state of the wreck, might leave a message in the guest book on the Home Page). 
This is a recent account of the wreck. Kindly provided,on the 10/12/06, by Doug Fontaine who is a current member of the 406 club. Thanks Doug.
The Dara is well broken up now and it’s easy to get lost, the bow is still fairly well intact or should I say one side of it is; the anchor is still in place, the two masts now lie on the seabed, heading towards the wreck with the masts in front of you the bows are to your right.


HL Deb 11 April 1961 vol 230 cc244-5244
3.38 p.m.
My Lords, I think it might be convenient if I intervened at this stage to make a statement similar to that which has just been made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in another place.
I am informed that the British India Steam Navigation Company's motor vessel "Dara", of 5,030 gross tons, was anchored in the port of Dubai on Friday evening, April 7, when she was struck by another vessel which had dragged anchor. The master decided to put to sea as the weather was deteriorating, intending to return in the morning. A total of 770 persons, including 132 members of the crew, are known to have been on board.
Early on Saturday morning, an S.O.S. was sent reporting the outbreak of fire, and the ship was abandoned at about 6.30 a.m., when some 40 miles from the shore. An Army tank landing craft, a number of ships of the Royal Navy, and several British and foreign merchant ships proceeded to the scene and picked up survivors. Five hundred and eighty persons were saved, but it is feared that the 190 who are missing, including 30 members of the crew, have lost their lives.
After the ship had been abandoned, fire-fighting operations were undertaken from alongside the vessel in difficult conditions by three Royal Navy frigates. She was taken in tow, but finally sank on Monday morning some five miles off the coast before she could be beached.
My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has ordered a formal investigation, which will be held in public, into the tragic circumstances attending the loss of this ship, and the necessary preliminary inquiries are already in hand. The House will wish me to express its deep sympathy with the relatives of those who have lost their lives and with the injured, and to pay tribute to the efforts of all those who took part in rescue operations, without which the loss of life would undoubtedly have been even more serious.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving the House the statement made in another place on this shocking disaster. We join with him in extending our sympathy, as I am sure all Members of the House will desire to do, with the relatives of those who have lost their lives. I do not think that it is possible at this time to make any comment on the incident. There will be an inquiry. One wonders how such a thing could have happened so suddenly, and I do not know whether we shall ever be able to get the true facts. I hope that as soon as the Minister is able, he will publish a report of the inquiry and give us a chance of studying it.
My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, I also should like to thank the Minister for the statement he has made, and to associate my noble friends and myself with the sympathy expressed to the relatives of those who have lost their lives in this disaster.


This is a badge from a BI envelope of 1939, taken from the BI web site: http://www.biship.com/index.htm 
For some nice paintings of ships, further BI information, livery & insignia, click on the above link to view their site.


  1. What you say in this post is what I felt each time I looked at the murphy radio ads on papers when I was a kid, The face of that child with the cherubic look, just played havoc with my heart, I wanted to know him, there wer so many rumours those days, some said he was the owner's son who died very young,I think I believed that story and each time I came across his image, i said a silent prayer. BTW I loved illustrated weekly as well

  2. Yes, I remember too. The child holding its right forefinger to the lips. I too heard of such stories..

  3. Remember the Afgan girl on the National Geographic front cover ???

  4. @Anil: Yes, those haunting eyes! You of course know, that the photographer went back again and traced the woman? I remember reading about it in the Nat Geo or was it in the TV?

  5. Absolutely beautiful! That was an emotional journey down memory lane. I still remember the Anikspray ad which was then aired in All India Radio and how the radiospot was signed off: ‘Anikspray, podipolumilla kandupidikkan’. It’s in the eighties, and yay! Malayala Manorama. Both Phantom and Flash Gordon used to appear in its Sunday Magazines side by side…I think it was on one of those days colour started to make its appearance.

  6. @arun: I can see that you are a Phantom fan! I will soon be getting 200MB of Phantom comics! :D

    All of us have some cherished bit of memory like my SS Dara. One day I hope to trace that family.

  7. One of my cousins, Shafiq Malik, aged 22) was also on the ship has not been heard of since. I have written a 25 page short story on the sinking of the ship in my book Rainsongs Of Kotli. I would love to see more images of the ship.

  8. Also see Clive Billson's page on SS DARA with the shipwreck site and more images:

  9. My grandfather was on SS Dara that fateful night. He was very fortunate to survive unlike those other poor souls who perished. Ironically, the only thing he had left was the key to his cabin which was still in his pocket.

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  10. Hi Balachandran,
    I am the visitor from Henderson, Nevada, U.S.A., (as is being shown in the side bar of your blog). I came to your page when googled for some information about the s.s. Dara, as my two aunts were the survivors of this accident. They were from Pakistan and their trip was pilgrimage-related.
    Thank you for your post.
    I also enjoyed your Kailas Yatra. Beautiful Travels and beautiful writing. Thank you again.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. @Nabila: It was pleasant to hear from you. Do you think you could perhaps ask your aunts to narrate their experience and post it here? Lots of people have visited my page on SS Dara; your aunts' experience would give them a different perspective on that tragic incident.

    Thank you so much for visiting and your kind comments. Do come often.

  12. Thank you for your response and for your interest. Unfortunately, both my aunts passed away some years back but I will get the details from one of my cousins who had first-hand info from them and will surely add it to your page after I get in touch with my cousin - I want to include their story in my family album along with their photos. That's what prompted me to look for SS Dara.

  13. I am one of the survivors of "Dara". The ship was on a stopover in Dubai. The next port was supposed to be Karachi when the incident happened.

    1. Dear Mr Kermali,

      I am so overwhelmed to hear from you. There is a couple in Trivandrum who also survived the tragedy. I once spoke to them over phone and wanted to meet them, but somehow I missed it. I have now no way to contact them.

      I would be so grateful if you could write about that unfortunate experience. Either you can write it here so that others who search on SS Dara could also read it or you can write to me at balanpnb@gmail.com.

      I am so touched that you commented here. From the number of hits from various parts of the world, I know that there are many people out there who would like to know more from you, firsthand. Thank you so much.

    2. I am also looking forward to know more about Mr. Nisar Karmai's story. Hope he will share it here. So interested to learn his experience, as there may not be very many people around to share their stories of being "s.s. Dara" survivors.

    3. Hi Nisar, i will highly appreciate if you would help us with any information you may be having on SS DARA, as you may have read my comment wherby i have written about my family members who perished in that ship, i would love to know more...

  14. Hi my grandfather, grandmother, uncle and two aunt`s all perished on SS Dara, leaving my dad an orphan at a very young age, If more information can available we will appreciate.

    1. Dear Ms Fatema, I am so sorry to learn your husband's loss; please convey my sympathy to him. I am afraid I cannot be of more help other than what I have posted here and the comments of the readers among whom Mr Karmali is a survivor of the tragedy. I will give you a link to a book written about the mishap. The book seems to be available in Canada. Its name is 'Last hours on Dara' and written by Abraham P J. Do get a copy if possible. My regards.


    2. Ms Fatema, Pl check this link you will get some more information

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Dear Mr. Balachandaran, it was not my husband as stated earlier but my grandparents, uncle n aunt`s are the ones who perished in the tragedy of SS Dara.

      Thank you again for the little information you passed on, if anyone else has some more iinformation please we will appreciate.

  15. My mother lost her brother on this ship. He was there to sell some watches / electronic devices so that he could make some quick money to buy my mom a wedding gift. Some of the survivors whom my grandparents could speak to had to say that he was on one of the life boats but rushed back to save a few lives (was a good swimmer). Later no one saw him and he never returned!

  16. Sad to hear about your uncle, Bharat! My heartfelt condolences! You would have noticed that some of the readers of this post are still looking for information of their departed dear ones. Do post the names and addresses of those survivors if you know it so that those who still mourn for their family and friends might be able to learn something...

  17. Our family is the only one who saved and survive from dara ship all family member are save my family are the last people on the ship who survived i wish to share all the story but dara has all the money which is going back to india so its not confrom that this blast did by the omani terrorist

  18. This is a page from 'Darkest Hours'.


  19. I have bookmarked your blog, the articles are way better than other similar blogs.. thanks for a great blog!
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  20. One man’s search for those lost at sea: The MV Dara tragedy
    April 8 carries sad memories for Sharafuddin Sharaf. For it is on this day in 1961 that he lost his mother and three siblings on the ill-fated last voyage of the MV Dara, which sank off the coast of Dubai after an on-board explosion

  21. On this day more than half a century ago, a steamship sank off Dubai with the loss of 238 lives. The tragedy of the MV Dara was one of the world’s worst maritime disasters and survivors are still searching for relatives.

    April 8 carries sad memories for Sharafuddin Sharaf. For it is on this day in 1961 that he lost his mother and three siblings on the ill-fated last voyage of the MV Dara, which sank off the coast of Dubai after an on-board explosion.


  22. At the time, the sinking of the MV Dara was the worst peacetime disaster on the high seas, second only to the Titanic.

    Mr Sharaf is one of the Emirati survivors interviewed by The National on the 54th anniversary of the tragic journey, when 238 people perished. Mr Sharaf, who was then 8 years old, was travelling to Karachi with his family.

    The MV Dara was owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company and ran on the Bombay/Arabian Gulf service, along with three other similar cargo-passenger steamers.



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