Thursday, May 31, 2018

Grim Anniversary is a Reminder of the Perils of Life at Sea

Dead Honoured at Wreath Laying Ceremony
Shipping News Feature
UK – There was a stark reminder of the perils of working at sea this week when a remembrance service was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the British Trent disaster. Nine seafarers lost their lives when the British Trent collided with the Western Winner, a Hong Kong-owned bulk-carrier in foggy conditions 10-miles off Ostend on 3 June 1993. Whilst the bulk carrier's crew escaped relatively unscathed, the Panamanian registered tanker’s cargo of 24,000 tonnes of unleaded petrol spilled into the sea and took fire.

Due to the ferocity of the fire, the crew abandoned attempts to launch the ship’s lifeboats and several of those on board, including two of the seafarers’ wives, jumped into the burning sea. The disaster was only mitigated by the actions of a Belgian boat which had collected the estuary pilot from the BP Shipping owned vessel as she headed out from Antwerp. The pilot vessel bore down on the stricken ship pulling crew from the blazing water.

The commemoration was organised by the maritime welfare charity, the Sailors’ Society with a wreath laying ceremony underneath the ship’s bell at All-Hallows-by-the-Tower in London. Sailors’ Society trustee Jon Holloway read out the names of the lost before laying the tribute. Among them was that of his friend, the ship’s 23-year old electrician Matthew Clements, from Bournemouth. Jon said:

“The shipping industry is a tightly-knit community, with lifelong friendships formed. Matthew’s loss was a huge blow to many and he is never far from our thoughts, particularly this week. When things go wrong, as it did with the British Trent, the assistance of organisations like Sailors’ Society is invaluable for the family and friends of the lost and it is a privilege to work so closely with the charity and support their work.”

Two of the survivors, husband and wife Ian and Allison Rippon, were supported by Sailors’ Society after the ordeal, when the ships collided, they had been in their cabin. At the time, Ian was reported in the press as saying:

“I opened the curtains and saw a big ball of fire coming back towards the accommodation. There was no time for anything. We heard the alarm, seven short and one long blast, and somehow all got to the lifeboats, but the smoke and fire were too bad, we couldn't see a thing. We had to jump and could hear people splashing in the water.”

Between 1976 and 2002, seafarers employed by British merchant shipping alone saw 835 traumatic work-related deaths – almost one-third higher than the general workforce of Great Britain. The British Trent tragedy was the worst accident off Belgium’s coast since the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987. Sailors’ Society’s CEO, Stuart Rivers, commented:

“In both tragedies, our port chaplains were among the first to respond and what they saw and heard at that time and in the days after will stay with them forever. Laying a wreath gives us the chance to remember the lost.”

Prayers for those affected by the British Trent disaster will be said at All Hallows’ Sunday service.

Photo: Belgian fire tugs battling the blaze aboard the British Trent. Image courtesy of AMP.