Hull triple trawler tragedy (1968)
The Hull triple trawler tragedy was the sinking of three trawlers from the British fishing port of Kingston upon Hull during January and February 1968. A total of 58 crew members died, with just one survivor. The three sinkings brought widespread national publicity to the conditions in which fishermen worked, and triggered an official inquiry which led to major changes to employment and working practices within the British fishing industry.
The St. Romanus sailed from Hull on 10 January 1968 and the last firm contact with the vessel was a radio telephone call the same evening. However, despite a company policy that ships should report their position and catch details daily, the alarm was not raised until 26 January, after a number of failed attempts by the owners to contact the ship by radio. It was then discovered that a liferaft found on 13 January by another vessel had come from the St Romanus. A search began, but by 30 January the families were told that there was little hope for the vessel and her crew of 20. Later, at the official enquiry, it was stated that a mayday call from the ship had been heard on 11 January by another ship, but had not been passed on.
The Kingston Peridot had also sailed from Hull on 10 January with a crew of 20, and by 26 January she was fishing off north-east Iceland in foul weather. She told another trawler by radio that she was having difficulties with ice build-up on the ship, and arranged to move east to join them, but no further contact was established and on 29 January one of her liferafts was washed ashore. This, with debris found subsequently, indicated that the vessel had sunk. News of her loss was received in Hull on 30 January, just as hope was fading for the crew of St. Romanus.
Ross Cleveland sailed on 20 January, before the loss of the first two trawlers became known. She was bound for the north coast of Iceland with a full crew, but one man was put ashore for medical treatment, leaving 19 on board. Conditions were very poor and on 3 February, following a weather warning, she made for Isafjordur, a narrow and relatively sheltered inlet on Iceland's north-west coast. A number of other ships were there to wait out what became a long and exceptionally severe storm, with hurricane-force winds and blizzards, causing dangerous amounts of ice to form on the vessels' superstructure and radar. The Ross Cleveland's captain attempted to move her from a dangerous position to a safer one during the evening of 4 February, but the ship was overwhelmed by the wind and sea, capsized and sank. The last radio message received by the other ships was from the captain, and ran:
I am going over. We are laying over. Help me. I am going over. Give my love and the crew's love to the wives and families.— Phil Gay, skipper of the Ross Cleveland
Other ships attempted to assist the Ross Cleveland but were defeated by the storm, and two more vessels, the Notts. County and the Heiðrún, were wrecked in Isafjordur that night, the latter lost with all hands. News of the sinking reached Hull on 5 February, six days after that of the Kingston Peridot. At first it was believed all aboard Ross Cleveland had died, but on 6 February Harry Eddom, the mate, was discovered alive, having been washed ashore in a liferaft the previous day. Two other men had been with him in the raft, but both had died of exposure before reaching the shore.
The trawlermen and their families formed a close-knit community in Hull, and the first two losses were a devastating blow. A safety campaign led by fisherman's wife Lillian Bilocca began; meetings were arranged between trawlermen's wives and trawler owners, and also with government ministers, and some wives picketed the dock to ensure all departing ships carried radio operators, attracting much national media attention. As the wives' deputation arrived at the dock in front of TV cameras and journalists on 5 February for the meeting with the trawler owners, news broke of the loss of Ross Cleveland. The following day the women travelled to London, again with massive media coverage, and met ministers to discuss a variety of reforms to the fishing industry. The same day, trawler owners were instructed to implement new safety arrangements based on the outcome of the meeting, with immediate effect.
There were official inquiries into the sinking of each ship. These concluded that St. Romanus had probably been lost on 11 January for reasons unknown; that Kingston Peridot had probably capsized on either 26 or 27 January due to instability in the extreme weather conditions; and that Ross Cleveland had been insufficiently stable to cope with the weather and the build-up of ice at the time. Various recommendations were made, and these were considered in greater detail by a government Committee of Inquiry, led by Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin, into safety in the British fishing industry. Its report, published in May 1969, brought about wide-reaching changes. These included tighter regulation of trawler design and construction; more and better safety equipment; legal standards for radio equipment, operators and reporting procedures; and a mass of improvements to employment, training and working practices and industrial relations. The tragedy continued to influence subsequent UK legislation on maritime safety: Harry Eddom's survival was cited in Parliamentary debates in 1986 over improvements in the provision of lifejackets and of emergency clothing in liferafts (Safety at Sea Bill 1986).
In 2002 the wreckage of the Ross Cleveland was located in Ísafjörður by a BBC team, and filmed via mini submarine. The pictures appeared to confirm the belief that a build-up of ice on the superstructure had contributed to the sinking. In January and February 2008 the 40th anniversary of the tragedy was commemorated at a series of events in Hull. The 50th anniversary was marked on 4 March 2018 with a service at Hull Minster mirroring the 1968 service.
- "Triple trawler tragedy". BBC Humberside. 24 January 2008. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- Creed, Rupert (1998). Turning the Tide: The 1968 Trawler Tragedy and the Wives' Campaign for Safety. Hull: Back Door Press. pp. 19–31. ISBN 0-9534555-0-5.
- "Trawler's Mayday call was held up 14 days". The Times. 10 October 1968. p. 2.
- Creed, 33–40
- "Toll rises to 60 as third Hull trawler sinks". The Times. 6 February 1968. p. 1.
- Creed, 49–54
- "Trawlermen's wives to try diplomacy". The Times. 3 February 1968. p. 1.
- "Check on trawler stability". The Times. 5 November 1968. p. 2.
- Creed, 79–84
- "Hansard". 7 February 1986. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- "BBC Inside Out finds lost Hull trawler after 34 years". Retrieved 10 September 2008.
- "Hull trawler tragedy 50th anniversary marked with service". BBC News. BBC. 4 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- Svensson, Ottar, Doom in the Deep: An Extraordinary Storm, a Miraculous Survival. Lyons Press, 2004, ISBN 978-1-59228-466-5