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Beryl Williams, mother of Derbyshire victim
"We knew from the start they were not to blame."
 real 56k

Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 11:44 GMT
Derbyshire crew cleared of blame
MV Derbyshire
The findings of a second inquiry are to be published
The captain and crew of the Derbyshire - Britain's biggest ever shipwreck - have been cleared of any blame.

The conclusion was announced in the High Court following a second inquiry into the sinking of the cargo ship MV Derbyshire.

Maria Eagle
Liverpool MP Maria Eagle

A total of 44 people, including four men from Wales, died when the 169,000-tonne bulk carrier sank off Japan in 1980.

This refutes the findings of an initial investigation in 1987 which blamed the Derbyshire's demise on "bad seamanship" - which has been disputed by families of the sailors.

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

Detective work

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".

He called on the government to press "strongly and urgently" for new standards for hatch cover strength.

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

This latest inquiry was ordered by the deputy prime minister 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: Vindicated

An investigation into the tragedy 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.

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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