Tyne, Tyneside, England
Completed a Shipbuilding Draughting apprenticeship
in various design and Steelwork production offices, including one years experience on the
shop floor with the fabrication trades while continuing with external studies to ONC in
Naval Architecture. (Distinction)
This period being well after the launching of the
Cunard Liner Mauritania' on September 20th 1906, being the first vessel from the joint
resources of Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd a name which didn't change until the
late 1960's with a change to Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd.
This was the period of the VLCCs (super tankers)
when the 253,000 dwt `ESSO NORTHUMBRIA' in 1969 followed by her sister ship the `ESSO
HIBERNIA' a time when Sir John Hunter was the chairman prior the nationalised British
Also at this time the modern safety hat was being
introduced and their was still one director who walked through the yard wearing a bowler
hat, this being the mark of distinction when promoted from the shop floor to management
level within the yard trades.
To see what followed
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Swan Hunters on the River Tyne
Technical Change and The
Wallsend as the name states is the end of Hadrian's
Wall (Roman Wall) which literally cut the United Kingdom in
half by traversing across country to Carlisle. The remains of the actual wall are in the
shipyard, with the end Fort of the wall located nearby is now being rebuilt.
This was the Romans second attempt to severe ties
with the marauding, skirt wearing Scot's warriors, the previous being a similar wall from
Edinburgh to Glasgow centuries before but gave up and moved south where the native
Geordies were more friendly, and it's still the same today.
Web Site: www.hadrians-wall.org
Searching for the Derbyshire
Marine Investigation into Britain's Biggest Single Shipping Casualty
By David Mearns Search
Oceaneering Techno1ogies, Upper Marlboro.
When the 169,000 deadweight-ton combination carrier Derbyshire (originally the Liverpool
Bridge) sank on September 10, 1980. some 230 miles off the coast
of Okinawa, no one would have predicted beforehand that this great shipthe largest
of her type in the world at the time could have ever suffered the sudden and violently
tragic ending that now appears to have befallen her.
Despite the fact that she was being overtaken by a typhoon that may
have subjected her to maximum winds of 85 knots and seas of 60 feet or more. The Derbyshire Derbyshire
was an immense vessel 965 feet long and 145 feet wide operated by an experienced captain and crew. She was capable of
withstanding the most appalling weather.
Moreover the Derbyshire, which had been launched in 1976 as the
last in the class of six sister ore/bulk/oil (OBO) ships built by the well-regarded
British shipbuilding company, Swan Hunter's on the river Tyne had only been in service for
less than three years of her very short four-year life.
The earliest indication that Derbyshires death was
extremely sudden was the puzzling absence of a "Mayday" call or any sort of distress signal. By September 13, four
days after their last radio communication, the owners Bibby Brothers & Co were
sufficiently concerned by the absence of contact to request a search by the Japanese
Maritime Safety Agency (MSA). MSA regulations on missing ships dictated that the search
could not begin until September 15, 24
hours after Derbyshire was expected to arrive in Kawasaki.
On the 15th, with two patrol boats and two reconnaissance
aircraft combing the seas, one of the aircraft spotted an oil slick that was about a
kilometer wide by 2 kilometers long.
The following day, a patrol boat directed to the slick confirmed that
oil was bubbling up from the ocean in a location approximately 40 miles from Derbyshires last reported position. Although the search was
temporarily suspended for a day because another tropical storm was threatening the area, a
third observation of "upwelling" fuel oil was made by an MSA aircraft on the
!9th. No other sign of the ship or her crew was made and, on September 20th, the search
was terminated. Any remaining hope of saving the 42 British officers and crew and two
wives on board Derbyshire was extinguished.
Six weeks after the sinking, one of Derbyshire's life boats was
sighted by a Japanese tanker nearly 700 miles to the west-southwest of the search area.
The empty life boat showed clear evidence of having been wrenched with great force from
its davits on the ship, further suggesting that the sinking was rapid.
Questions and Speculations
Reaction to Derbyshire's loss was immediate and intense. In the
public and in the shipping industry, the same questions were asked: How could such a large
and seemingly invincible ship be lost almost without a trace?
Derbyshire had been equipped with the latest electronic equipment
capable of transmitting a May Day call at the push of a button. What possible catastrophe
would leave the crew on the bridge with so little time to react in saving the ship and
their own lives?
Eighteen months after the loss, one of Derbyshire's sister
ships, the Tune Bridge, was forced to
return to port because of cracking of the deck plate in an area just forward of the
superstructure known as Frame 65. In port, the severity of the cracks was
alarmingly apparent. On the starboard side there was a 19 foot crack: on the port side an
I 11 foot crack (Ramwell and Madge. 1992).
Prompted by LIoyds Register two sister ships Casi Kittiwake Casi Kittiwake and Sir Alexander Glen were
inspected in the summer of 1982 and were both found to have identical problems with the
design and workmanship of critical structural members around Frame 65. The common defect in all three ships invoked a pair of
longitudinal bulkheads (girders) that nearly run the length of the ship and serve as main
strength members. Contrary to the originally intended design, the two longitudinals were
terminated at Frame 65 and butt-welded to the transverse bulkhead that marks the
end of the line of cargo holds. Furthermore, the longitudinal bulkheads forward and aft of
Frame 65, which should be precisely aligned to preserve continuity and maximum hull
strength, were misaligned by 25 to 45 millimeters.
A research study commissioned by the U.K. Department of Transport
(Bishop, eta!., 1991) concluded that
overall "field stresses" along DerbyDerbyshire's hull would be at a peak near Frame 65. such that the combination of field stresses and high local stresses resulting
from probable termination and misalignment of longitudinal members is likely to have
resulted in rapid crack propagation and catastrophic structural failure of Derbyshire's hull.
A formal investigation (F!) into Derbyshire's loss was finally
conducted in 1987. Unfortunately. the Bishop study was excluded from consideration by the
wreck commissioner and the authors were never
called to testify. Even more surprising, evidence from the Knowloon Bridge
Knowloon Bridge another sister ship whose sinking and subsequent
fracture all around Frame 65 was the
incident that initiated the inquirywas essentially ignored Ironically citing the lack of factual evidence the Fl report published in
1989 concluded that Derbyshire was probably overcome by the forces of nature in
Typhoon Orchid (Anon.. 1989).
The impact of Derbyshire Derbyshire mysterious sinking on the shipping industry was great, but nowhere was it
personal than in Liverpool where the ship made her home port and where 17 members of Derbyshire's crew lived. For many of the surviving wives, children, and parents, the grief
has been prolonged b the lack of a body to bury and distrust in the 1987 formal investigation. Ultimately. the common loss shared by the family members led them to form Derbyshire Families Association (DFA) and to persistently
campaign for a true accounting of Derbyshire's loss.
Bulk Carrier Losses Continue
Against this backdrop of increasing controversy
structural design of the Bridge-cIass of OBO ships, the worlds
bulk-carrier fleet was experiencing casualties at an abnormally high rate throughout the
1980s and early 1990s. In the years 1990-91, the pace of losses increased dramatically as
25 bulk carriers were lost under circumstances where structural failure may have been a
factor as reported by Lloyds Register.
At least 273 crew died in these sinkings. Including the 99 crew that
have perished in the worst three of this years bulk carrier losses, it is estimated
that 750 seafarers have lost their lives since 1988. In response to proposals by
the DFA and two U.K. transport unionsthe RMT and NUMAST the International
Transport-workers Federation (ITF) ambitiously decided to fund a search for
Derbyshire and to produce the first factual evidence of her sinking. Among its objectives, ITF
wanted to focus attention on maritime safety and the plight of seafarers and to expose the
practice of attributing mysterious sinkings force majeure.
The ITFs selection of Oceaneering Technologies
the search was based largely upon the firms reputation, unique experience, and
capabilities in the conduct of deep ocean searches and marine accident investigations. In
addition to its well-known track record in major air crash inquiries (Air India 747,
Challenger, SAS 747, United Airlines cargo door, Itavia DC9). the company was
developing a further specialty in the location and photo/video investigation of sunken
ships. In 1990, Oceaneering Technologies made a major investment in this specialty by
fielding the first state-of-the-art "teamed system" that combined a
dual-frequency side-scan sonar with a work-class ROV system for the deep ocean up to 6000
The system was first used in solving the mystery of the freighter
Lucona for an Austrian court that was hearing a famous insurance fraud and murder case. Since
this introduction, Oceaneering Technologies has used the teamed systems frequently on a
variety of shipwreck insurance investigations and special salvage projects.
The Search Begins
Like all searches. Derbyshire search began with a very thorough
collection and analysis of the known loss data, of six reported sightings of oil slicks
and debris, only three were felt to be reliable and accurate. The major uncertainty in
these positions was the lateral displacement the oil bubbles would experience during their
4.210 meter rise to the surface. Although some studies suggested that displacement could
be as great as 10 nautical miles away from the wreckage. our analysis indicated a worst
case displacement of 3 miles.
Another vital clue came from the Japanese Hydrographic Office who
provided current doppler data that showed a prevailing southerly current, refuting the
conventional wisdom of a north westerly Kuroshio Current.
Using the principles of modern probability analysis (Discenza and
Greer. 1994), an overall search area of 75 square nautical miles was estimated with
a high probability zone of roughly 90 square miles. The search plan to cover this area
relied on seven 14-mile lines running 1000 280~ where the ocean floor slopes off the Daito
Ridge at 70 towards a basin more than 5.200 meters deep (Davies. 1994).
Following mobilization of Oceaneering Technologies teamed Ocean
Explorer 6000 side-scan sonar and Magellan 725 ROV systems on board the survey vessel
Kai Mart,, and transit to the search area, the sonar was launched at 1405 hours
on May 29 to begin the search. By 2152, Ocean Explorers wide swath sonar (33
36 kH,) was on-line and sweeping a 4.8-kilometer swath of ocean floor in search of
On the third line, less than 23 hours from the start of the search
pattern, the sonar detected a large and dense area of high backscattcr. Although promising
and a definite candidate for a high-resolution pass. this sonar contact did not match the
expected large single target of the presumed intact hull.
As the search progressed, other contacts were found on overlapping
lines in the area of the earlier promising contact, increasing the crews hope. With
no other likely contacts found, the search plan was ultimately modified to run over the
promising contact on a high-resolution puss (simultaneous 33/36 kHz and !20 kHz) of 1.2
At 0123 hours on June 3, the color monitor displaying Ocean
Explorers sonar imagery began revealing a scene of immense destruction and
fragmentation that could not be attributed to anything other than the obliterated remains
of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.
For detailed photo/video documentation work, the Magellan is typically
outfitted with a 35mm still camera (stereo and 750 frame options) and strobe lights; a
wide-angle black & white SIT camera; a color camera with zoom capabilities; and a bank
of variably controlled flood lights. Video options include a three-chip camera for the
highest broadcast quality and a boom deployed small-diameter camera for internal
penetrations. This range of high quality photo/video configurations as available to ensure
that Magellans visual evidence is clear to lay people and is defensible in a court
Due to time limitations, Magellan was deployed in the wreckage field
for just six hours. The initial scene that greeted her was one of thousands of bright,
sparkling reflections from the tons of iron ore particles that had escaped the cargo holds
and settled on the seabed. It wasnt long before the first piece of fractured shell
plating was found. Thereafter. large pieces of wreckage were videotaped in unusual
contorted angles lying next to lengths of bent piping and other small debris. Finally, a
very large section of the ship sitting upright but deeply buried within an impact crater
was recognized as the bow. Maneuvering high above to visualize the widest view of wreckage
possible, the bow appeared to be fractured straight across at Frame 339. Moving past the
large spare anchor that was still lashed to the deck, Magellan closed in to observe the
last five letters on the name on the port side: SHIRE," which had not been seen for
nearly 14 years.
Before leaving the wreck, Magellan performed one final act, gently
placing a bronze plaque bearing words of remembrance for Derbyshire families on the
bow as a final memorial to the 44 who died.
Further detailed analysis of the sonar imagery following the search
mission has yielded another significant finding: the identification of a sonar target
believed to be the stern section just forward of the superstructure in the suspected weak
section around Frame 65. This location of the stern, in addition to the confirmed fracture
of the bow and the presence of hundreds of relatively small pieces of wreckage. indicates
an extremely violent breakup that must have occurred over a very short period of time,
perhaps only seconds or minutes. The extensive shattering of the hull clearly visible in
the high resolution sonar image has raised new questions about what forces came
to bear on the Derbyshire in the moments just
before, and after, her sinking.
In the view of the ITF
and many other supporters, this
spectacular scene of destruction is new and important evidence that invalidates the
conclusion of the 1987 formal inquiry that Derbyshire was probably overcome
by the forces of nature in Typhoon Orchid." As calls for a fresh public inquiry and a
new expedition to gather more information from the wreckage field mounts, the U.K. Marine
Accident Investigation Branch has been asked by the minister of transport to assess this
new evidence and report to him MAIBs recommendations.