January 2014 marked the passage of two years since the grounding of the Costa Concordia off Isola del Giglio, Tuscany on 13th January 2012.
January each year is also when I remember two other maritime losses – that of the Stranraer-Larne ferry Princess Victoria in January 1953, and the other, perhaps less known, but one to me which epitomises the challenges and risks fishermen face in their everyday work. It is the loss of the scallop dredger Solway Harvester, out of Kirkcudbright (Scotland), which sank in heavy weather off the Isle of Man on January 11th 2000 with the tragic loss of all seven crew members.
The wreck of the Solway Harvester was eventually located after an intensive search on January 15th, 2000, in 30 metres of water, 11 miles off the Manx coast. In a very sensitive response, reflecting the common values and bonds between two fishing communities, the Isle of Man Government funded a salvage operation to recover the wreck, but more importantly the bodies of the seven young fishermen. This was completed successfully in February 2000.
Since that time the battered hulk of the Solway Harvester has lain in a quiet corner of the inner harbour in Douglas, whilst all enquiries, legal issues etc were completed. Finally at the end of 2013, the contract to demolish the vessel went to the Laxey Towing Company, which had played a major role in the salvage operation and had then looked after the wreck in Douglas Harbour. The demolition was completed early in January 2014.
High on Douglas Head looking silently over the harbour and out to the sea where the Solway Harvester was lost, stands a small dignified memorial presented to the Manx People by the people of the Isle of Whithorn area in Dumfries & Galloway in thanks. It stands as a lasting memorial to the young men so tragically lost in that stormy day back in January 2000 and of the strong links between the Manx and Scottish seafaring communities forged in tragedy and grief.