Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

     June 22, 1947
     The S.S. Markay Explosion
     L.A. Harbor





of a 


convened at

11th U.S.C.G. District
Long Beach, California

To inquire into the explosion and fire aboard the SS MARKAY at Berth 167, Mormon Island, Los Angeles Harbor, California, at or about 2:06 a.m. on 22 June, 1947.





Pages 1 to 18 incl.



Exhibits appended  . . .  . . . ."B"
Finding of Facts

 . . . . . . . . 1


 . . . . . . . .11


 . . . . . . . .12


 . . . . . . . .16











Neither the Board, the recorder, nor the parties to the

investigation desired to call any more witnesses.

    At 9:30 a.m. on 7 July, 1947, the Board convened to analyze

the facts and to formulate the conclusions, opinions and

recommendations;  and at 4:00 p.m. adjourned.


    At 9:30 a.m. on 8 July, 1947, the Board convened to analyze

the facts and to formulate the conclusions, opinions and

recommendations;  and at 4:00 p.m. adjourned.


    At 9:30 a.m. on 9 July, 1947, the Board convened to analyze

the facts and to formulate the conclusions, opinions and

recommendations;  and at 4:00 p.m. adjourned.

    At 9:30 a.m. on 10 July, 1947, the Board convened to analyze

the facts and to formulate the conclusions, opinions and

recommendations;  and at 3:00 p.m. adjourned.  The investigation was

finished, the parties thereto withdrawing.

    After full and mature deliberation, the Board finds as




1.  The SS Markay is an ocean tankship, official number 242355, of

10342 gross tons, length 503.9 feet.  She was built of steel with a

riveted hull at Chester, Pa., in 1942, and was documented at

Wilmington,Delaware.  She was classed 1-A-1 (E) by the American

Bureau of Shipping,and 100 A-1 by Lloyds.  Special Survey No.1 was

completed on 12 December, 1946.  The MARKAY's last annual inspection

was completed at Los Angeles, California, on 13 December, 1946.  She

was approved for the carriage of inflammable and combustible liquids

of Grade A, not to exceed 25 lbs.  Reid Vapor Pressure and all lower

grades; cargo capacity 138523 barrels.

2.  The MARKAY is owned by the Keystone Tank Ship Corporation, 100

W. 10th Street, Wilmington, Delaware.  Her agents at Los Angeles are

W. H. Wickersham Co., 111 W. 7th Street, San Pedro, California.

3.  The SS MARKAY left Astoria, Oregon, in ballast at 8:30 a.m. on

19 June, 1947, bound for Wilmington, California.  En route all cargo

tanks with the exception of No. 7 across were butterworthed or

washed in preparation for receiving any type of liquid cargo.  All

tanks with the exception of No. 7 across were therefore

comparatively gas-free on arrival off Los Angeles Harbor at 1:00

p.m. on 21 June, 1947.  The vessel moored at the Shell Oil Terminal,

Berth 167, Mormon Island, Wilmington, California, at 2:00 p.m. on 21

June, 1947, at which time Captain Karl I. Hogstrom, Port Captain,

and Mr. Robert J. Hicks, Engineering Inspector of the Keystone Tank

Ship Corporation, boarded the vessel to advise the Master and the

Chief Engineer of the cargo that was to be loaded, and to assure

themselves that the vessel was ready


to receive the various commodities.  Captain Hogstrom and Mr. Hicks

were to stay aboard the vessel during loading operations to insure that

the vessel would be loaded expeditiously and depart on schedule.

4.  The Master of the vessel, John T. Torrance, paid off and signed on

several crew members after the vessel docked.  Captain Hogstrom

informed Captain Torrance that the vessel was to load a butane-blended

gasoline cargo in Nos. 4, 5, and 6 tanks across and that therefore no

smoking would be permitted aboard the vessel during loading operations,

no cooking would be permitted in the galley and the crew would be fed

ashore.  The Master thereupon ordered that the galley be locked, air

ports be closed and dogged, all watertight doors on the main and upper

decks be closed and kept closed, all ventilators on the after house

be trimmed away from the loading deck, and that the engine room

skylights be closed.  These instructions were carried out under the 

supervision of the Chief Engineer and the Chief Officer.

5.  Immediately after docking, the Boatswain, along with the deck

watch and deck maintenance men, connected up three cargo hoses to the

ship's loading lines, located between No. 5 and No. 6 tanks on the

starboard side of the main deck, one cargo hose to a riser on the

starboard side of the forward deck in the way of No. 2 tank, and a 

"Y" connection on the after deck in the way of No. 8 tank to load

Diesel fuel in No. 8 wing tanks over-all.  After these hoses had been

connected to the deck crewman with the exception of the watch were

dismissed,  and it being Saturday afternoon, were not required to

perform any other duty aboard the vessel.  The Steward's stores were

on the dock at the time the vessel moored and were taken

aboard by a shore gang while



cargo hoses were being connected.  The Steward's department personnel

stowed these stores in the vessel's store rooms aft and were then

dismissed for the day.  The Chief Engineer on the advice of the

Engineering Inspector, Mr. Hicks, required two Assistant Engineer

Officers to remain aboard the vessel during loading operations;

these Engineer Officers were to stand alternate 8-hour watches in the

engine room with a full engine room and fire room crew, consisting of

a Fireman-Watertender and an Oiler.  Before arrival at the loading

berth, all scuppers from the main deck were plugged and cemented.

6.  At 3:45 p.m., after the Steward's stores had been loaded and

all watertight doors and ports closed, loading commenced.  80-octane

aviation gasoline was started in No. 1 tanks.

7.  At 3:55 p.m., 91-octane aviation gasoline was started in

No. 2 wing tanks.

8.  At 4:00 p.m., Diesel fuel was started into No. 8 wing tanks


9.  At 4:25 p.m., butane-blended gasoline, consisting of 31% butane,

and 69% of 80 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit straight-run and natural

gasoline, was started in No. 4 tanks across.  This commodity was

delivered to the vessel from the Shell Oil Refinery about 5 miles

distant at a rate of approximately 3000 barrels per hour.

10.  At 6:40 p.m., the loading of 80-octane gasoline into No. 1

tanks was completed.

11.  At 6:40 p.m., the loading of Diesel fuel into No. 8 wing

tanks was completed.  Sometime later the deck watch with the

assistance of the dock foreman disconnected the hoses

from the "Y" and put them ashore,


then closed and dogged the hatch covers to No. 8 wing tanks.  During

this operation a small quantity of Diesel oil from the hose was spilled

on deck.

12.  At 7:15 p.m., stove oil was started into No. 8 center tank

through a stripper line.

13.  At 7:25 p.m., the loading of 91-octane aviation gasoline in

No. 2 wing tanks was completed.  After the completion of the 91-octane

aviation gasoline which was shifted from No. 1 stripper line to No. 3

stripper line so that premium gas (red ethyl) could be loaded into

No. 2 center tank.  During the disconnecting of this hose, some of

the commodity which was in the hose was spilled on deck, estimated at

from 5 to 30 gallons.  The Chief Mate, Mr. Henriksen, who along with

Mr. Clendenny, the Third Mate, supervised the shifting of this hose,

claimed that the line had been washed with water from the dock and

that the commodity that was spilled on deck was therefore mostly water.

14.  At 8:30 p.m., premium gasoline (red ethyl) was started into

No. 9 tanks; this commodity was also delivered from the Shell Refinery.

15.  At 11:00 p.m., the loading of stove oil was completed in No. 8

center tank;  this left only premium gasoline (red ethyl) and the

butane-blended gasoline being loaded at this time.  The Chief Mate

stated that at or about this time he had opened and closed the

starboard doors to the shelter deck space to facilitate loading

operations and was aware that Mr. Clendenny, the Third Mate, had

done likewise.

16.  After the stove oil in No. 8 center tank had been topped off

at or about 11:00 p.m., Mr. Henrikesn, the Chief Mate, turned the loading


supervision over to Mr. Merle P. Clendenny, the Third Mate, and went

to his room to turn in.  At this time he met George A. Lamoree, the

Radio Operator, who had just returned aboard the vessel from shore.

Lamoree informed the Mate that he was going to bed.  The Chief Mate

then lay down in his bunk in his quarters amidships, but because of

the heat and the gas fumes within the quarters, he was unable to sleep;

he then took his pillow from his bunk and went out on the dock to his

car which was parked approximately 100 ft. from the gangway and went

to sleep in his car.  The only persons in the midship deck-house at

this time, so far as is known, were the Port Captain, Karl I Hogstrom,

who was using the Master's quarters, and the Radio Operator, who was

in his quarters on the port side of the upper bridge deck.

17.  Between 11:00 p.m. and midnight the center and starboard No. 4

wing tanks were topped off.  During the topping off of these tanks, gas

fumes were so strong on the main deck in the way of No. 4 loading valves

that the loading crew was unable to remain near them, and this gaseous

condition extended all along the starboard side of the forward main

deck of the vessel.  For this reason the Third Mate, Mr. Clendenny,

opened the starboard doors to the shelter deck space where he and two

of the loading crew sought refuge from the fumes and from which position

they took turns in closing down the valves to the starboard and center

No. 4 wing tanks, and relayed signals to a seaman stationed at No. 5

center tank, abaft the midship house, to open up the loading valve

to that tank.

18.  At midnight the 12:00 to 4:00 a.m. watch relieved the 8:00 to 12:00

watch with the exception of the Third Mate, Mr. Clendenny, who had


arranged to take the mid-watch for the Second Mate who liven in Long

Beach.  At this time, the butane-blended gasoline was being loaded

into No. 4 port wing and No. 5 center tanks.

19.  Shortly after midnight, No. 9 tanks across (red ethyl) were

topped off.  There was no evidence that premium gasoline (red ethyl)

was being loaded into any tank other than No. 2 center subsequent to

this time.

20.  After No. 9 tanks were topped off, No. 4 port wing tank (butane-

blend) was topped off and No. 5 port and starboard wings opened for

butane-blend.  This operation was completed shortly before 2:00 a.m.,

after which time the only tanks being loaded were the No. 2 center tank

with premium gasoline (red ethyl) and No. 5 tanks across with butane-

blended gasoline.  No. 3 tanks across, No. 6 tanks across, and No. 7

tanks across were still empty.  Fumes in the way on No. 5 tanks at

this time were said to haven been strong.

21.  At or about 1:30 a.m., Ronald G. Lossner, A.B., returned aboard

the vessel from shore liberty.  Arthur O. Gunderson, O.S., who was a

member of the loading watch at this time, requested Mr. Lossner to

relieve him so that he might go ashore.  Mr. Lossner refused, but on

going to his quarters found that it was too hot there to sleep because

of the ports and doors being closed; so he returned to the deck and

relieved Gunderson.  Gunderson then dressed and went ashore at about

2:00 a.m.  As Gunderson went over the gangplank he exchanged a few

words with the A.Bs of the watch who were leaning over the rail in the

way of No. 5 tanks.  Gunderson did not see the Third Mate at this time.

22.  Weather data obtained from the Marine Exchange, official weather


observers in Los Angeles Harbor for the U. S. Weather Bureau, indicated

that weather conditions at 2:00 a.m. on 22 June, 1947, were as follows:

Partly cloudy
Visibility 6 miles
Wind:  West, force:2 miles per hour
Barometer:  29.89
Temperature:  wet bulb - 59 degrees F.
              dry bulb - 62 degrees F.
Humidity:  84%
        (see Exhibit No. 3)

23.  At about 2:00 a.m., Eric Martinsen, Q.M., a member of the loading

watch, suggested to Mr. Clendenny, Third Mate, that he be permitted to go

aft and make coffee for the watch;  Mr. Clendenny agreed.  At this time the

rest of the loading watch were standing on the port side of the main deck 

in the way of No. 5 port wing tank.  At or about 2:06 a.m., while Martinsen 

was in the crew pantry in the after-deck house preparing to make coffee, an 

explosion occurred amidships.  Martinsen ran from the pantry to the 

fantail, slid down a mooring line to the dock and ran to safety.  Mr. 

Gunderson, who had gone ashore about 2:00 a.m., had just reached the 

terminal gate where he was waiting for a taxi;  the explosion knocked 

Gunderson from his feet;  on picking himself up he observed the flames 

emanating from the SS MARKAY and ran for safety.  Neither of these men was 

able to state where the initial explosion or fire occurred.

24.  Mr. Robert J. Hicks, Engineering Inspector, who was sitting in a chair 

in the Chief Engineer's room in the after deck house at the time, was 

knocked to the deck by the force of the explosion.  When he got to his 

feet, he looked out of the port hole to the forward deck and observed the 

deck afire just aft of the midship house.  He also went down a stern line 

to safety.


25.  The Third Assistant Engineer, Mr. Clyde L. Hammer, who was asleep in 

his room in the after deck house, was awakened by the explosion and found 

that all the lights were out in that section of the vessel.  He felt his 

way to the Chief Engineer's room and looked out to the forward deck where 

he saw that the deck from the midship house aft was afire.  He then went to 

the engine room door and yelled to the crew below, but received no 

responses, and then made his way to the fantail where he started down a 

stern line, but because of the intense heat dropped off the line into the 

water and swam to the dock.  He was severely burned on the arms, beck and 

legs while leaving the vessel.  Several other members of the crew who were 

sleeping in the after quarters found their way to safety in the same 


26.  Mr. James Walker, a laboratory technician of the Shell Oil Company, 

was engaged in the making tests of samples taken from the vessel in the 

dock laboratory ashore which was located about 150 ft. from the ship 

directly opposite the midship house.  Mr. Walker stated that his back was 

to a window overlooking the forward deck and midship house;  that when the 

blast occurred, he was staggered, but that he looked over his shoulder 

through he window and observed that the blast occurred abaft the midship 

house and that when he regained his balance, the flames had not extended 

forward of the midship house.  He then left the vicinity to seek safety and 

did not observe anything further.

27.  Mr. Harry A. Arndt, pumpman for the Shell Oil Company, who was in the 

pump house ashore at the time of the explosion, stated that he heard 

something which he could not define which warned him that a casualty was 

occurring and that he automatically fell flat on the floor.


of the pump room.  He stated that he was conscious of a crackling noises,

similar to that caused by lighting, immediately preceding the explosion.

28.  Mr. Lee Wyant, Los Angeles Harbor pilot, who was piloting a vessel

out of Los Angeles Harbor and was about a mile distant from the MARKAY

when the explosion occurred, stated that he heard sounds similar to

shotgun blasts in rapid succession immediately preceding the major


29.  Mr. L. E. Fawcett, operator of the CROWLEY #26, a tow boat under 

charter of the United Towing Company of Wilmington, California, stated

that he was approaching Berth 168 immediately astern of the MARKAY

with an oil barge when the explosion occurred.  He stated that he was

looking directly at the MARKAY and saw the initial blast and subsequent

flame emanate from a position on the port side of the main deck just

abaft the midship house and that burning gasoline immediately spurted

out of the vessel and within three minutes had crossed slip No. 1 and set

afire the warehouses and docks in that area.  He immediately

backed his tug away and left the vicinity.

30.  The statement of these various persons indicate that the initial

explosion occurred on the port side of the main deck somewhere in the 

vicinity of No. 5 tanks into which butane-blended gasoline was being


31.  A physical examination of the SS MARKAY by the Board on 7 July,

1947, revealed that the main deck of the vessel had been ruptured in

the way of No. 3 tanks and that the deck from its intersection with

the transverse bulkhead between No. 3 and No. 4 tanks had been rolled

back over the top of No. 2 tank expansion trunks.  The midship house


was almost completely demolished and melted down into an unrecognizable

mass.  The deck in the way of No. 7 tank was also ruptured with both the

port and center sections of the deck from its intersection with the

transverse bulkhead between No. 6 and No. 7 tanks rolled back over No. 8

port and center expansion trunks, and the section of deck covering No. 7

starboard wing tank was blown completely loose from the vessel and was

resting on the shore approximately 100 ft. away.  The after bulkhead

of the shelter deck space had been blown completely loose from its

welded boundary connections and was lying across the loading pipe lines

between No. 6 port and center tanks.  The starboard after door of the

shelter deck with all but one dog torn loose was resting on the shore

in the vicinity of the section of deck from No. 7 starboard wing tank,

indicating a violent explosion within the shelter deck space.  The

vessel itself has been burned completely over its entire outside area

and within the after quarters, engine and fire room spaces.

32.  The Shell Terminal dock in the way of Berth 167 was completely

destroyed as was the pump house and laboratory. Burning gasoline from

the vessel also destroyed the docks and warehouses on the opposite side

of Slip No. 1, immediately opposite the MARKAY.

33.  Eight crew members of the MARKAY and the Port Captain of the Key-

stone Tank Ship Corporation are known to be dead or missing, as are

three wharfingers of the Shell Oil Company who were on duty on the dock

at the time of the explosion.  (See Coroner's Report appended.)  Twelve

crew members were injured and received medical treatment;  of this number,

nine were hospitalized, none of whom was considered by the U.S.P.H.

Medical Officer at San Pedro, California, to have been seriously injured.


CONCLUSIONS (based on facts)

1.  That large quantities of butane and gasoline vapors were present

about the decks of the MARKAY during the loading operations, especially

in the vicinity of the midship house.  These vapors flowed out through

the ullage holes and owing to atmospheric conditions (comparative calm

and high humidity), were not dissipated by natural means.

2.  That similar vapors accumulated in the midship quarters and

shelter deck space during the course of the loading.

3.  That negligible quantities of similar vapors were present in the

engine room.

4.  That no vapors were present in the quarters aft.

5.  That the vapors just aft of, or in the after part of the midship

house were ignited by some cause the exact nature of which the Board was

Unable to determine due largely to the fact that all persons in the 

immediate vicinity of the primary explosion were killed.

6.  That the primary blast was followed in rapid succession by a

sweep of flame along the after deck, explosions in Nos. 7 and 3 tanks

(which were empty at the time), a torching from the open ullage holes

of No. 5 tanks, and a sweep of burning gasoline across the waterway

to the opposite side of the channel.




1.  That the fumes in the midship house were admitted and distributed

through the opening and closing of doors leading into the Officers'

quarters, opening and closing the doors into the shelter deck space, and

from the shelter deck space to the Officers' quarters amidships.

2.  That a violent explosion took place in the shelter deck space

amidships very early in the course of events as indicated by the fact

that the after bulkhead of this space was blown outward, landing across

the loading manifold atop No. 6 tanks and by the fact that the upper

decks over this part of the shelter deck space were sagged down over the

area from which the bulkhead had been torn.

3.  That several possible sources of ignition existed within or

around the midship house, namely:

a. Speed regulators in the bases of the electric fans

in the Officers' quarters and radio room.
b. Non-watertight light switches in the Officers' 

c. Although the Board was unable to secure any evidence

in regard to the final disposal made of the ends of

wire used in charging the spare battery by the Radio

Operator on the Friday preceding arrival in port

and referred to by several witnesses, there exists

a possibility that the wire ends remained in the

position testified to by the Boatswain until loading

commenced, in which case they would constitute a

possible source of ignition.





d. Although the electric light switch for the shelter

deck lights and the automatic pressure-actuated

switch for the fresh water pump motor located in

the shelter deck were presumably of the watertight

type, there is a possibility that they had become

defective, in which case they would be possible

sources of ignition.
e. The Radio Operator and the Port Captain were

occupying rooms midships at the time of the

explosion and might possibly have awakened and

turned on a light or operated a fan switch.
f. A static electricity spark in the rigging or else-

where about the ship might have ignited the vapors.


4.  That No. 6 port tank was ruptured either from an internal

explosion or as a result of the explosion in No. 7 tanks.  Owing to the

awash condition of the deck the Board was unable to determine this more


5.  That No. 5 tank was opened as a result of the damage to No. 6

port and was the source of the gasoline which flowed across the channel.

6.  The Board has carefully considered the actions of the Chief and

Third Mates in permitting the shelter deck compartment to be used,

first, as a refuge from the excessive fumes in the vicinity of Nos. 4

and 5 tanktops, and, second, as a passageway for relaying instructions

in connection with the toping off of No. 4 tanks and the transferring

of the flow of the butane-blend to No. 5 tank.  Use of the shelter

deck in this manner was contrary to the Master's instructions in that




it involved the intermittent opening and closing of the watertight

doors into this space, which doors, as well as all other weather doors

and ports, the Master had ordered to be closed and kept closed during

loading.  Inasmuch as these doors opened into a space which was the

equivalent of a cofferdam, the opening and closing of such doors did not

constitute a violation of any of the Tanker Regulations and should not

have constituted a hazard.  In fact, they might very well have been

left open during the entire loading period with the possibility, in

such a case, of improving ventilation of the deck in the vicinity of

Nos. 4 and 5 tanktops.  The Chief and Third Mates were the senior deck

Officers on board after the Master's departure and consequently it

became their duty to take whatever steps were in their judgment necessary

when any condition arose which might make a departure from strict

compliance with the Master's orders necessary.

7.  Such a condition arose when, in topping off No. 4 tanks, the fumes

forward of the midship house became so thick that it was necessary for

the crew to take turns in adjusting the loading valves.  These thick

fumes extended some distance forward on the deck and at this time the

men were permitted to retire to the shelter deck between turns at the

valves.  The Mates also considered that it was advisable to use this

space for the purpose of transmitting orders to the man stationed at the

valves to No. 5 tank which was the next tank to be loaded with the 

butane-blend.  This is common tanker practice.

8.  The Master, in his orders, did not especially emphasize the doors

to the shelter deck space, but included them in his general instructions

that all ports and weather doors were to be closed and kept closed.  He


himself had permitted ordinary seaman, O'Donnell*, to enter the space

in question to obtain a lashing at the time the hose was shifted from

No. 1 to No. 3 stripper and it is probable that the Mates considered

this a precedent justifying their action in allowing the shelter deck

to be entered when, in their judgment, it was the proper thing to do.

9.  Taking the foregoing circumstances into consideration, the Board

feels that the Mates' actions in this connection were not unjustifiable

under the existing conditions, in view of common tanker practice.

10.  That the door at the top of the stairway from the shelter deck

to the Officer's quarters amidships should have been of gas-tight


11.  That the electric light switch and current-interrupting device

for the automatic operation of the fresh water pump in the shelter deck

space should have been on the deck above.

12.  That the two spills from loading hoses during the course of the

evening were minor in character and had no appreciable effect either

on the vessel's susceptibility to an explosion or to the fire afterward.

13.  That the vessel was equipped with non-sparking tools for the

opening and closing of tanks, as required by the Rules.

14.  The Board is of the opinion that gauging cargo tanks through

open ullage holes during transfer of cargo of high volatility, as was

done on the MARKAY, while not contrary to the Tanker Rules, is not the

safest practice, particularly during the loading of Grade A products.


*See O'Donnells's testimony; Page 573, lines 10 to 16.


1.  That the Tanker Rules (Subchapter D) be amended as follows:

a. To require that ullage plugs be tightly closed

during the loading of Grade A liquids so that

any discharge of vapors would take place at the 

flame arrester at the top of the vent header

system.  This is similar to the requirements for

the loading of liquified gases and would require

that approved liquid-gauging devices be fitted on

all tanks to be used for the carriage of Grade A

liquids.  As an alternative to the foregoing,

the loading of any mixture or solution of an

inflammable gas, such as butane in gasoline

or any other carrier might be prohibited except

under the conditions set forth in Part 38 of

the Tanker Rules.
b. To require that transfer of cargo not be started

or if started, discontinued, if inflammable gasses

in explosive concentrations accumulate about the

decks or in any of these spaces required by the

Tanker Rules to be separated from cargo tanks by

cofferdams or equivalent spaces, and that 

periodic tests for such explosive contamination

be made of the air in the above-mentioned spaces

by especially designated personnel whose duty

it shall be to make such periodic tests, observe

general safety conditions, and report on the same

to the senior deck officer in charge.




To require that no member of the ship's crew be re-

quired or permitted to be in charge of, or a member

of the loading force for a period longer than eight

hours at a stretch and if on such duty for eight

hours continuously, be required to have at least

six hours off duty before resuming such duty.


2.  That the possibility of artificial ventilation of tank vessel

decks when loading operations are taking place during calms, by the

creation of an artificial wind to clear the decks of accumulated

gases, be explored.

3.  That the properties of butane-blended gasoline be investigated

by a Government agency to determine whether or not there are any

special dangers in its transportation by sea.

4.  That the escape of fumes through ullage holes be minimized

by providing tanks with properly designed sounding pipes, open at

the bottom, to permit manual gauging.

Captain, U. S. Coast Guard

Captain, U. S. Coast Guard (R)

Commander, U. S. Coast Guard (R)






  The Board then, at 3:00 p.m. on 10 July, 1947, adjourned to await

the action of the convening authority.

Captain, U. S. Coast Guard,


Lt. Commander, U. S. Coast Guard (R)





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