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Lake Maracaibo

Lake Maracaibo

At 11:45 pm on the 6th of April 1964 the supertanker “Esso Maracaibo” loaded with 236,000 barrels of crude oil hit pier # 31 of the 2-year-old “General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge” that connects Maracaibo with much of the rest of the country.

While navigating the canal, after having been loaded with crude, the vessel lost steering due to a major electrical failure onboard. The collision with the bridge structure followed within a few minutes.

A 259-meter section of the bridge roadway fell into the water with a portion coming to rest across the tanker just a few feet from the ships superstructure. Please see the photos posted.

Four vehicles drove off into the void left by the collapsed sections and seven lives in the vehicles were lost.

Amazingly there was no loss of life or serious injury on the tanker and no explosion or fire.

A MORNING TO REMEMBER Maracaibo, April 7 1964.-

"I was on my way to work early in the morning of April 7th. My daily route was from the Las Delicias residential sector toward the traffic circle connecting to Los Haticos. The avenue then followed the bay area that was part of the Port of Maracaibo where several of the commercial fishing fleet docks and marine repair facilities were located.

On the hill, at the Plaza de Las Banderas, one had the first clear view of the bridge when coming out from the city. I could see that a section of the bridge was missing with a tanker just below.... amazing.

I radioed our dispatcher Miguel and told him what I had just seen. He said that there had been a lot of radio traffic on the Marine Emergency Channel 16 during the night and also on the SEMARCA closed radio network. News of accidents or other events were always quickly picked up by the crews and circulated around the fleets - from the oil and drilling company platforms, barges, boats and tugs… news always traveled fast on the Lake but mostly in bites and with much speculation added as the information circulated.

The Port Captain and the civil authorities, which had very limited equipment and crews, agreed quickly that the best people to organize rescue and salvage efforts was Creole Oil Company. The disorganized traffic of launches and tugs stopped at the accident area and the oil company took over rescue operations with government and Venezuelan navy support."