Disasters at sea
I am sure that many of our readers will have been engrossed as I was reading Murray Robinson’s excellent account in recent editions of Sea Breezes of the loss of the TEV Wahine in April 1968. I hope many of our readers noted Murray’s closing request for support with his initiative to write a book in time for the fiftieth anniversary in 2018.
While it is unfortunate that many of the most noteworthy maritime anniversaries tend to be around the sinking of vessels and the accompanying tragic loss of life, it is absolutely right that we commemorate such events and remember those lost and the suffering of the families and communities impacted upon by such disasters. What should not be forgotten is that ironically, many of the major improvements in making life at sea safer over the last century have arisen from the lessons learned from such disasters.
Last year saw the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, which prompted a huge amount of coverage in the media and the year also marked the 25th anniversary of the shocking loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise. Until the Herald disaster the worst UK maritime disaster since World War Two had involved the Princess Victoria which sank in the North Channel of the Irish Sea in 1953.
When I joined the Stranraer - Larne route in 1971, less than two decades had passed since the tragedy and I knew many individuals in the local communities whose lives had been indelibly marked by the disaster. My predecessor as Shipping and Port Manager for the route, Captain L J Unsworth, had served frequently on the Princess Victoria, but by a twist of fate had not been on duty that traumatic last day of January in 1953 when storms wrought havoc across most of Western Europe. Only a few weeks ago it was with sadness that I learned of the death of John McKnight, Chief Steward on the Stranraer - Larne run until his retirement, who as a young man had survived the sinking of the Princess Victoria.
I find it hard to believe that the 60th anniversary of the Victoria tragedy has now passed by; and as the years continue, memories will inevitably fade and the surviving numbers of those who bore witness to the shocking events will continue to dwindle. How pleasing to note then, in the context of the Wahine disaster, that the Museum of Wellington City and Sea held a series of special events to mark the 45th anniversary, and that the focus was very much on involving young people to ensure the story is kept alive.
Sea Breezes therefore wishes Murray Robinson every success in fulfilling his aspiration to publish a detailed account of the disaster in time for the fiftieth anniversary.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR