The sinking of MV Derbyshire

large container ship at sea

MV Liverpool Bridge, before she was renamed MV Derbyshire. © HMSO, reproduced with kind permission

This online feature was originally created to accompany a display marking the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the MV Derbyshire in 2005. There is now an updated display in the Life at Sea gallery.

An extraordinary loss

MV Derbyshire is the biggest British registered merchant ship ever to have been lost at sea.

Built in 1976, she was an oil/bulk/ore (OBO) carrier. A Liverpool registered ship, she was owned by the local firm Bibby Line. On her final voyage more than a third of the crew were from Liverpool.

She was lost in September 1980 in the South China Seas during typhoon Orchid, en route from Canada to Japan. All 44 people onboard died, including 42 crew members and 2 of their wives.

In the 1980s about 17 bulk carriers were lost each year. The loss of Derbyshire was extraordinary because:

  • she was only 4 years old
  • she was manned by an experienced master and crew
  • she was built by a British shipyard
  • she was classed A1 by Lloyds Register, the top classification for merchant ships.

Incredibly it was 20 years before the reasons for the sinking were discovered. This is the story of how the families of the lost crew fought to discover the truth.

The Derbyshire campaign records of Captain David Ramwell, author of 'A Ship Too Far: the Mystery of the Derbyshire', are available at the Maritime Archives and Library, | reference D/DFA(A).

Museum display

MV Derbyshire - Search for the Truth

Derbyshire wreck

Mosaic photograph of the stern, from the wreck survey of MV Derbyshire. Courtesy of the Department for Transport

This online feature was created to mark the 25th anniversary of the sinking in 2005. The accompanying display in the museum which opened to mark the anniversary in 2005 was updated in 2012 with a new display MV Derbyshire - Search for the Truth.

The museum display tells the story of the sinking of the MV Derbyshire, subsequent investigations into its disappearance and the tireless campaign of the Derbyshire Family Association to find out the truth. Featured objects include:

  • Bibby Line uniform jacket and cap of Leo Coltman, Third Engineer Officer
  • Bell presented to the Derbyshire Family Association by NUMAST
  • Letter from Ronnie Musa, Able Seaman 1
  • Memorial plaque

The display also features leaflets, books and other material produced during the Derbyshire Family Association's long campaign for the truth and to improve safety procedures for bulk carriers.

Images and text provided courtesy of the Derbyshire Family Association.