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Paul Lambert of the Derbyshire Support Group
"He had a marvellous effort to be there, as a former seafarer not as deputy prime minister"
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Saturday, 9 September, 2000, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Prescott remembers Derbyshire victims
MV Derbyshire
The ship was the length of three football pitches
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has attended a memorial service for the families of 44 people who lost their lives on the bulk carrier MV Derbyshire, just hours after his aides said he had pulled out.

Mr Prescott, a former seamen's union official, attended the annual event at Liverpool Parish Church on Saturday in a private capacity, amid protests over fuel prices at the oil depot at nearby Ellesmere Port.

The families wanted to thank John Prescott for what he has done for seafarers

Paul Lambert, Derbyshire Families Support Group

When news first emerged Mr Prescott would not attend the service there were reports he was afraid of being targeted by protesting farmers and lorry drivers.

But a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, said: "He has changed his diary this weekend but it is because of government business, not because of any protest."

Mr Prescott finished his government business earlier than expected and found a "window of opportunity" to attend the service.

It emerged that the minister's other business included ongoing negotiations with the Japanese finance house Nomura, which is to buy the Millennium Dome.

His decision to attend the service has been praised by families of the lost seamen.

Paul Lambert, secretary of the Derbyshire Families Support Group, said: "He attended the service in a private capacity, not as deputy prime minister but as an ex-seafarer.

"When he phoned up to say he would be there it was quite unbelievable. The families wanted to thank him for what he has done for seafarers."

The 169,000-tonne ore and oil bulk carrier sank in the Pacific Ocean south of Japan when she was hit by Typhoon Orchid in 1980.

The results of a re-opened inquiry into the tragedy will be published later this year.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
Mr Prescott initially cancelled plans to attend the memorial service
An initial investigation - launched after the vessel's sister ship The Kowloon Bridge broke up off Ireland in 1986 - concluded that the Derbyshire was overcome by 80ft waves.

But scientists visiting the site of the wreck - found 2.5 miles under the surface in 1994 - discovered that an insecure 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 also said the vessel had been "unprepared to take the rigours of typhoon seas" and had been ripped apart in minutes.

Structural fault

Relatives of the dead, who have formed the Derbyshire Families Association, have been praised for their efforts to ensure that the inquiry was reopened.

The MV Derbyshire had set sail for Kawasaki from the Canadian port of Seven Islands with a crew from the north-west of England and two of their wives.

Although the initial investigation suggested that extreme weather caused the ship to sink, the families have always suspected that a structural fault was to blame.

wreck of the MV Derbyshire
Scientists examined the wreck site in 1997

A similar fault was found in two of the Derbyshire's sister vessels.

The Derbyshire, which was the length of three football pitches, was built on Teesside by Swan Hunter and owned by Liverpool-based Bibby Line.

Mr Prescott described the 2.7m expedition to the wreck site on the Pacific Ocean bed in 1997 as "one of the century's greatest feats of underwater detective work".

Port chaplain Reverend Peter McGrath said the service was an important occasion for the victims' families.

He said: "We have had this service every year now for the last 15 years. Of the 44 people who died we are in touch with 43 families.

"People travel from as far away as Cornwall in one direction and Glasgow in the other. It is very important because it gives the families a chance to meet up.

"Of all the support groups set up after disasters, the Derbyshire one is the closest."

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