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Thursday, March 12, 1998 Published at 18:47 GMT



UK

Derbyshire sinking inquiry reopens
image: [ John Prescott's announcement follows surveys of the wrecked ship ]
John Prescott's announcement follows surveys of the wrecked ship

The UK Government has ordered a reopening of the inquiry into the loss of the British bulk carrier Derbyshire, which went down in a typhoon off Japan in 1980.


Watch Simon Montague's report for BBC1's Six O' Clock News in Real Video
The move, announced by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, followed a report from a government-financed survey of the wreck of the 169,000-tonne Teesside-built vessel.


[ image: Water flooded the bow area, assessors explained, causing ship to sit lower ...]
Water flooded the bow area, assessors explained, causing ship to sit lower ...
The report ruled out any structural defect on the vessel as the reason for the sinking.

The survey's assessors said the Derbyshire, on which 42 British crewmen and two wives lost their lives, was "unprepared to take the rigours of typhoon seas".


[ image: ... the hatch covers ripped off, cargo area filled with water and the ship sank in minutes]
... the hatch covers ripped off, cargo area filled with water and the ship sank in minutes
The report from the survey said that a hatch was unsecured, but this was not the sole reason for the sinking.

Showing vivid graphics of the last moments of the vessel, the assessors explained how water had flooded the bow area of the ship, causing it to sit lower in the water.

Unable to get sufficiently above 80ft waves, the vessel had its hatch covers ripped off and with the cargo area filling with water, sank rapidly.

Mr Prescott said the survey was "one of the century's greatest feats of underwater detective work" and was even more impressive than the research done on the wreck of the Titanic.


[ image: Structural defects were suspected after Derbyshire's sister ship, Kowloon Bridge, ran aground]
Structural defects were suspected after Derbyshire's sister ship, Kowloon Bridge, ran aground
He said he would give interested parties three months to submit representations on whether the formal investigation should be reopened in whole or in part.

They can also suggest questions it should address, and whether the re-hearing should be held before a wreck commissioner, as was the first 1987 Derbyshire hearing, or in the High Court.

Controversy has surrounded previous attempts to find out what caused the vessel to sink. It was only after a sister ship, the Kowloon Bridge, went aground and broke up off Ireland in 1986 that the first public inquiry into the Derbyshire accident started in 1987.


[ image: Marion Bayliss lost her husband in the tragedy]
Marion Bayliss lost her husband in the tragedy
That inquiry found that the sinking was probably due to bad weather. Relatives, unions and shipping experts maintain that the Teesside-built ship and other bulk carriers were structurally unsound.

Survey assessor Robin Williams explained that the tanks in the bow flooded through an opening, ventilators and an air pipe, whose covers were washed away.


Marion Bayliss talks about her battle to uncover the truth (23")
Successive hatches then either imploded or exploded and water flooded in to the holds, which contained thousands of tons of iron ore. Mr Williams said the force of the explosions was equivalent to 17 tonnes of TNT.

There were several reasons for the sinking and the ship would not have gone down for any one of the reasons alone - it was a combination of all of them.

The vessel sank with an estimated 9,000 tonnes of water in the hold and the surveyors found "a picture of almost total destruction with parts of this huge ship ripped apart lying torn and crumpled on the sea bed".

Asked if the survey's findings vindicated the design of the ship, Mr Williams replied: "This is not a clean bill of health for the industry. We have ignored the signs and are still ignoring signs. Ships are being lost. There are no winners in this. There is a lesson for everybody in this sinking."






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