In 1960 the Severn Railway Bridge spanning the River Severn between Sharpness and South Wales was seriously damaged in a maritime tragedy. Some eight cargo vessels were coming up the “navigable” part of the estuary to Sharpness when they suddenly plunged into a dense fog bank. In chaotic blind manoeuvring off what they thought was the port entrance there were one or two mild collisions, but two small Harker tankers “Arkendale H” and “Wastdale H” ran foul of each other and, locked together, were swept up by the ever-increasing tide. Too late they attempted to make headway down stream but were carried stern-first for a mile into one of the pillars of the smaller spans of the Bridge. Two spans, together with the railways lines and a 12” gas main collapsed onto their decks, capsizing one and spewing into the water their combined cargoes of 650 tons of oil and petrol which exploded and covered the surface with fire spreading almost a mile upriver. Of the eight men on board only three were rescued, partly by the heroic efforts of the master of a tanker in Sharpness Docks who with help man-handled his ship’s punt to the river-bank and rowed out into the flames. Then the tankers were carried up on to the Noose Sand by the tide and partly buried, where they were eventually destroyed with explosives to prevent their becoming dangerous floating derelicts.
Only four months after that the tanker “BP Explorer”, 140 feet long and drawing 11 feet was bound up-river to Sharpness with a cargo of 440 tons of petrol. Rather early on the tide, she must have strayed from the narrow channel somewhere between the Narlwood Rocks and Berkeley Pill, touched bottom and slewed athwart the tide, which rolled her over and over and carried her up through the remains of the Severn Bridge then back and forth again to end up also on the Noose Sand. All five souls on board were lost. Unbelievably little damaged, she was salvaged and re-fitted, but some four years later the demolition of the Bridge was begun. All that now remains are some of the stubs of the pillars occasionally showing above the sand as it shifts.