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BBC Transport correspondent, Simon Montague
"Hundreds of other bulk carriers need urgent investigation."
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The BBC's Tom Symonds
"An enduring maritime mystery"
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Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 15:36 GMT
Derbyshire crew cleared of blame
MV Derbyshire
The Derbyshire was the length of three football pitches
The captain and crew of the MV Derbyshire, which sank 20 years ago with a loss of 44 lives, have been cleared of any blame, overturning a 1997 investigation into the tragedy.

Relatives of the victims disputed the previous inquiry which found "bad seamanship" in failing to properly secure a hatch cover caused the sinking.

Without a shadow of a doubt this is a vindication of the families

Paul Lambert, Derbyshire Families Association
Reporting its findings on Wednesday, the latest inquiry, headed by a High Court judge, put the blame for the disaster on inadequate hatch covers which bent and buckled as the vessel battled a typhoon in the Pacific in September 1980.

The 160,000 tonne ship sank in just two minutes with the loss of all 42 crew members and two of their wives.

'Seriously deficient'

The new inquiry found the inadequate hatch covers allowed sea water to pour into the space above the cargo causing the vessel to plunge deeper, increasing the pressure on other hatch covers which burst and directly led to the massive ship sinking 2.5 miles to the bottom.

Mr Justice Colman concluded that minimum strength requirements laid down by international convention for massive ships like the Derbyshire are "seriously deficient".

Detail from the MV Derbyshire on the sea bed
The video of the wreckage shows the foredeck hatch cover missing
He called on the government to press "strongly and urgently" for new standards for hatch cover strength.

The judge said any amendment should be applicable not only to new ships but all existing bulk carriers because present hatch cover design "poses an unacceptable risk to the safety of those vessels and their crews".

Paul Lambert, chairman of the Derbyshire Family Association, said: "Without a shadow of a doubt this is a vindication of the families and the decision by John Prescott to hold the second inquiry."

Mr Lambert, who lost his 19-year-old brother, Peter, in the tragedy, added: "I don't think there are any winners because there are still 44 people dead at the end of the day."

In a statement, the families' solicitor, Stephen Cantor said the relatives were "very pleased".

He added: "Hopefully, the recommendation the judge has made will now be implemented and save suffering among those at sea in the future."

Underwater detective work

The deputy prime minister ordered the latest inquiry in 1998.

The 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".

More than 137,000 photographs and 200 hours of video film evidence were brought before the latest inquiry.

Paul Lambert, chairman of the Derbyshire Families Association
Paul Lambert: Vindicated
An investigation was initially ruled out because the government at the time said there was no evidence of "a ship, survivors nor wreckage".

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

It concluded that the Derbyshire, which was carrying a heavy cargo of iron ore, was overcome by 80ft waves.

Ripped apart

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 160,000-tonne bulk carrier had been "unprepared to take the rigours of typhoon seas" and had been ripped apart in minutes.

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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