13 September 2018
RMT Press Office:
RMT supports MV Derbyshire Families Association commemoration event in Liverpool on Saturday
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash will join with families and friends of the 42 seafarers and 2 passengers (wives of crew) who died in the MV Derbyshire tragedy 38 years ago at the Derbyshire Families Association’s annual memorial service in Liverpool on Saturday.
The memorial service will take place on Saturday 15th September, from 11am at St. Nicholas’ Church, Liverpool. This will be followed by the unveiling, in a specially designed garden, of an MV Derbyshire Memorial supported by the maritime unions.
General Secretary Mick Cash said;
“38 years on it is important that we continue to remember those who died on the MV Derbyshire and support the friends and families of those who lost their lives.
“This was a shocking tragedy that serves as yet another reminder of the constant battle for maritime safety. The unveiling of the memorial plaque will serve as a constant reminder to the entire industry that safety on our seas must never be compromised and must remain our watchword.”
On 9th September 1980, the UK flagged, built, owned and crewed MV Derbyshire disappeared from radar 200 miles off the south coast of Japan, en route from Canada with a cargo of iron ore. All on board, 42 crew (inc National Union of Seamen members) and two passengers (wives of crew members), lost their lives when the ship was engulfed by a series of massive waves created by Typhoon Orchid. It sank so quickly that there was no time for a mayday signal. At over 91,000 gross tonnage and twice the size of the Titanic, the Derbyshire remains the largest merchant ship on the UK Register to be lost at sea.
At the time, bulk carriers had an appalling safety record. Comprising only 7% of the world fleet, bulk carriers accounted for 57% of lost ships. In the 22 years between 1975 and 1997, 378 bulk carriers were lost (including the Derbyshire) with the loss of over 1,300 seafarers’ lives.
A subsea search for the wreck of the Derbyshire, funded by RMT, Nautilus and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), was conducted in the Pacific Ocean in May 1994 with the Derbyshire discovered on the last day of the search, lying on the seabed at 4,200m.
After nearly 20 years of campaigning by the MV Derbyshire Families Association, RMT, Nautilus and the ITF, the original investigation into the cause of the MV Derbyshire’s loss was re-opened (and re-heard) by the then Secretary of State, John Prescott on 17th December 1998, using powers created by the Major Government in 1995.
The original investigation, reporting in January 1989, was largely inconclusive and lacked any useful, rigorous insight into the causes of the loss, so much so that it was described by the Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn on the first day of the re-opened investigation on 5th April 2000 as:
“...self-confessed speculation in large measure, an exercise in surmise, constrained by the lack of evidence.”
The UK Government had consistently refused to re-open the initial investigation into the causes of the loss of the Derbyshire and it was only the trade union-funded search for the vessel in the 1990s that established the necessary evidence to activate the legal obligation on the Government to re-open the investigation.
The subsequent investigation not only absolved the crew from any blame for the loss of the vessel but led to significant improvements in the safe operation of bulk carrier class ships, as well as vital developments in the understanding of the mechanics of destructive waves generated under typhoon conditions.
As a result of the Derbyshire investigation being re-opened, 22 recommendations for improving shipping safety were made by the UK Government between 1998 and 2001, all of which have been subsequently adopted by the International Maritime Organisation.
In 2014, the Coalition Government’s Deregulation Bill proposed scrapping the duty on the Secretary of State to re-open maritime accident investigations in the light of new and compelling evidence. Despite a concerted effort by the RMT and the Labour front bench, the Bill was passed into law.
A list of the people who lost their lives can be found at http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/visit/floor-plan/life-at-sea/derbyshire/crew-list.aspx