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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 16:05 GMT
Derbyshire inquiry 'to exonerate crew'
MV Derbyshire
'Crew were not to blame'
The 42 crewmen who died when a 169,000-tonne bulk carrier sank will be exonerated by an inquiry, according to a Liverpool MP.

The MV Derbyshire went down with a crew from the north-west of England and two of their wives when it was hit by Typhoon Orchid south of Japan 20 years ago.

The victims' relatives have disputed the findings of a 1997 investigation which blamed the Derbyshire's demise on "bad seamanship".

Labour MP Maria Eagle, whose constituency is in Liverpool where 15 of the victims were from, said on Thursday: "I believe that the inquiry will vindicate the families' efforts over the years to get to the truth."

The relatives, who formed the Derbyshire Families Association, have always suspected that a structural fault was to blame.

Detective work

John Prescott ordered the latest inquiry in 1998.

Its findings will be announced in the High Court on Wednesday.

The Deputy Prime Minister, himself a former seaman, described a 2.7m government expedition to the wreck site - 2.5 miles under the Pacific Ocean - as "one of the century's greatest feats of underwater detective work".

Inquiry chairman Mr Justice Colman studied more than 135,000 photographs and 200 hours of video film evidence.

An investigation was initially ruled out because the government at the time said there was no evidence of "a ship, survivors nor wreckage".

Ripped apart

Then, in 1987, an inquiry was launched after the vessel's sister ship, The Kowloon Bridge, broke up off the coast of Ireland.

It concluded that the Derbyshire was overcome by 80ft waves.

But a decade later scientists discovered that an unsecured hatch may have been a major cause of the tragedy.

Assessors concluded that the bow end of the vessel had flooded and the cargo hatches had been ripped off, allowing water to flood in.

They said the ship had been "unprepared to take the rigours of typhoon seas" and had been ripped apart in minutes.

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