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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 06:25 GMT
'Rogue wave' theory for ship disaster
MV Derbyshire
The 44 crewmen perished when the bulk carrier sank
Scientists have discovered that a rogue wave pattern helped cause one of the UK's biggest maritime disasters.

More than 40 people died when the MV Derbyshire was lost during a typhoon in the South China Sea in 1980.

An inquiry ruled last year that a hatch cover had failed to withstand the pressure caused by huge waves which buffeted the 160,000-tonne bulk carrier.

Now further research has shown the ship got into trouble because the waves were exactly the same length as the vessel.

wreck of the MV Derbyshire
Scientists examined the wreck site in 1997
The study, carried out by experts at the University of Lancaster, has called for ships such as the Derbyshire to be made much stronger so they can take the strain of extreme weather conditions.

Dr Janet Heffernan analysed wave patterns experienced by the Derbyshire.

She said: "It was a coincidence that the length of the ship was almost exactly the same length as the wave.

"If the wave is smaller than the ship, then the vessel can cope with it.

"If the wave is much bigger, then the ship bobs on top of the wave, a bit like a duck.

Intolerable pressure

"But if the wave is the same length then the ship picks up the frequency of the sea and rises and falls with the waves."

The research has shown that this led to intolerable pressure on the Derbyshire, especially on a hatch cover which burst open and ultimately led to the loss of the ship and 44 crewmen.

Dr Heffernan's research, which also states the case for improving safety for bulk carriers, was ordered following last year's inquiry.

Obviously I would welcome anything which improves safety at sea but unless the recommendations are acted on then there will be further losses

Paul Lambet, Derbyshire Families Association

The inquiry, led by Mr Justice Colman, overturned an earlier report which lay the blame for the disaster on the crewmen.

It was greeted as a victory by families of the crewmen.

But Liverpool-based Derbyshire Families Association spokesman, Paul Lambert, who lost his 19-year-old brother Peter in the disaster, said: "It is one thing coming up with ideas for preventing this sort of thing happening again but it is another thing making ship owners implement them.

"There were 22 improvements called for after the Derbyshire inquiry and none have been taken on board."

Among the measures recommended were aircraft-style "black box" trip recorders and alarms to alert the captain if water was being taken on.

Mr Lambert said: "Obviously I would welcome anything which improves safety at sea but unless the recommendations are acted on then there will be further losses."

Since the Derbyshire sank, more than 300 bulk carriers have gone down with the loss of more than 1,000 lives.

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