Searching for the truth

container ship at sea, resting at an odd angle on unseen rocks

MV Kowloon Bridge aground on Stag Rock off the south coast of Ireland

A formal investigation?

The families of the crew who died on MV Derbyshire wanted a formal investigation.

The UK Government refused because, without evidence, a formal investigation was not warranted. They did however ask two independent bodies to conduct research into the loss.

The Derbyshire Family Association (DFA) was formed in order to lobby for a formal investigation. It took the families twenty years before they learned how their loved ones had perished

A sister ship in trouble

In March 1982 one of Derbyshire’s five sister ships, the Tyne Bridge, encountered severe weather in the North Sea and her deck plating started to crack just forward of the bridge in an area known as frame 65

The four other remaining sister ships were contacted. Each one in turn found similar damage in the same location. It was found that the Derbyshire had also had a similar but lesser problem in the same location

Investigating frame 65

Peter Ridyard, the father of the 4th engineer on the Derbyshire, was a very experienced ship surveyor. He was convinced that a ship like the Derbyshire should not have sunk so he collected information about the damage to her sister ships.

He sent this data to the Department of Transport (DOT) in September 1982 and again in June 1983 but received no response.

In July 1985 the DOT issued a draft report that suggested that the Derbyshire might have been lost due to damage in front of the bridge in the region of frame 65.

The Derbyshire Family Association was angered when, in March 1986, the DOT published the report in a much modified form, saying that the loss of the ship could have been due to various other reasons.

Another sister ship in trouble

On 18 November 1986 another one of Derbyshire's sister ships, MV Kowloon Bridge (originally called the English Bridge), developed severe deck cracking at frame 65 in the North Atlantic.

On 20 November she anchored in Bantry Bay, Eire. Two days later she dragged her anchor and put to sea again. She then lost her rudder and went aground on rocks in the South Irish Sea. Shortly after that she broke her back near frame 65.

Following the loss of the Kowloon Bridge the UK Government agreed to hold a formal investigation into the loss of the Derbyshire, which took place between October 1987 and March 1988.

The conclusion was announced on 18 January 1989, almost nine years after the loss of Derbyshire. The families learnt of the findings from press reports.

The formal investigation concluded that:

"For the reasons stated in this Report the Court finds that the Derbyshire was probably overwhelmed by the forces of nature in typhoon Orchid, possibly after getting beam on to wind and sea, off Okinawa in darkness on the night of 9/10 September 1980 with the loss of 44 lives. The evidence available does not support any firmer conclusion"

The families were outraged that the evidence from the wreck of the Kowloon Bridge had seemingly been ignored. Convinced that frame 65 had something to do with the loss of the ship, they demanded an underwater survey. However they were told that the exact location of the wreck was not known and that there was no adequate technology to find the wreck.