SS San Flaviano

SS San Flaviano was a 1950s British oil tanker owned by Eagle Oil and Shipping Company, a British subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell. She was built by Cammell Laird in England in 1956 and attacked and sunk by the CIA in Borneo in 1958.

United Kingdom
Name: San Flaviano
Namesake: Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople
Owner: Eagle Oil and Shipping Company
Operator: Royal Dutch Shell
Builder: Cammell Laird, Birkenhead,[1] UK
Yard number: 1242[1]
Launched: 1956[1]
Out of service: 28 April 1958[1]
Identification: IMO no. 1187459[1]
Fate: Bombed and sunk by the CIA
General characteristics
Type: Oil tanker
Tonnage: 12,278 GRT[1]
Displacement: 19,349 tons
Length: 556 ft (169 m)[1]
Beam: 70 ft (21 m)[1]
Propulsion: steam turbine[1]
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h)[1]
Crew: 53[1]
Balikpapan in Kalimantan, Indonesia, where a CIA aircraft bombed and sank San Flaviano.

San Flaviano had a sister ship, San Fortunato, built by Cammell Laird in the same year. The two ships were part of a substantial investment programme to renew Eagle Oil's fleet with larger and more modern tankers. Between 1950 and 1960 the company took delivery of at least 16 new tankers.

Bombed and sunk by the CIA

San Flaviano's career was cut short in 1958. On 28 April San Flaviano was in Balikpapan Harbour, in the East Kalimantan Province of Borneo, when a Douglas B-26 Invader bomber aircraft, flown by the CIA and painted black and with no markings,[2] bombed and sank her.[1][3][4][5] San Flaviano had nearly finished discharging a cargo of crude oil, leaving her tanks full of highly flammable gas.[6] The CIA aircraft hit San Flaviano with one or more 500-pound (227-kg) bombs amidships on her starboard side.[6] Fire and explosions spread rapidly along that side of the ship, either destroying her starboard lifeboats or making them inaccessible.[6] Nevertheless, her officers and crew launched both port lifeboats within four minutes, successfully evacuating everyone including a passenger, the Chief Officer's wife.[6] San Flaviano sank near the entrance of Balikpapan harbour.[6]

In response, Royal Dutch Shell suspended its tanker service to Balikpapan and evacuated shore-based wives and families to Singapore.[4] Most of San Flaviano's complement were also evacuated to Singapore, travelling on two oil tankers of Anglo-Saxon Petroleum, another of Royal Dutch Shell's British subsidiaries.[6] The first 26 from San Flaviano left that same day on MV Daronia, which had had a narrow escape in the same air raid.[6] Another 24 from San Flaviano followed a few days later on MV Dromus, leaving the Master (Captain Jack Bright) and his senior officers as the only people from San Flaviano still in Balikpapan.[6]

In June 1958 both the Indonesian and UK governments claimed that the aircraft had been flown by Indonesian rebels.[4] In fact only the radio operator was from the Permesta rebels in North Sulawesi.[7] The B-26, its 500 lb (230 kg) bombs and its pilot, former United States Army Air Forces officer William H. Beale, were sent by the CIA as part of US covert support for the rebellion.[7] The CIA pilots had orders to target commercial shipping to drive foreign merchant ships away from Indonesian waters, thereby weakening the Indonesian economy and destabilising the Indonesian government of President Sukarno.[3] Shell's suspension of operations and partial evacuation of personnel was exactly what the CIA attack was intended to achieve.

For some months previously, UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd had supported US policy to aid Permesta.[8] On 6 May 1958, more than a week after the CIA sank San Flaviano, Lloyd secretly told US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that this was still his position.[9] On 18 May, Indonesian forces shot down a different Permesta B-26 and captured its CIA pilot, Allen Pope.[10][11] Nevertheless, in June 1958 both Indonesia and the UK publicly claimed that the aircraft had been flown by Indonesian rebels,[4] concealing the CIA involvement of which both governments were well aware.

See also


  1. Lettens, Jan; Allen, Tony (28 April 2012). "SS San Flaviano [+1958]". The Wreck Site. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  2. Conboy & Morrison 1999, p. 88.
  3. Conboy & Morrison 1999, p. 116.
  4. David Ormsby-Gore, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (11 June 1958). |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 202–203. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  5. "INDONESIA: The Mystery Pilots". Time. 12 May 1958. Archived from the original on 9 December 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  6. Born, Aad H.c.j. (June 1958). "San Flaviano – Aad H.c.j. Born". Shell Magazine. Kees Helder. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  7. Conboy & Morrison 1999, pp. 99–100.
  8. Kahin & Kahin 1997, p. 156.
  9. Kahin & Kahin 1997, p. 175.
  10. Conboy & Morrison 1999, pp. 138, 139, 141.
  11. Kahin & Kahin 1997, p. 179.


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