MV Derbyshire

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Model of the M.V. English Bridge.jpg
Model of Derbyshire's sister ship, English Bridge
  • Liverpool Bridge (1975–1978)
  • Derbyshire (1978–1980)
OwnerBibby Line
Port of registryUnited Kingdom Liverpool
BuilderSwan Hunter
Yard number57[1]
Launched5 December 1975[1]
CompletedJune 1976[1]
IdentificationIMO number7343805 Call sign: GULK
FateLost with all hands on 9 September 1980 during Typhoon Orchid.
NotesLargest British ship ever lost at sea
General characteristics
Class and typeBridge-class combination carrier
Length294.2 m (965 ft 3 in)
Beam44.3 m (145 ft 4 in)
Draft18.44 m (60 ft 6 in)
Ice classA1
Installed powerB&W 8K98FF
Propulsion1 × propeller
Speed15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph)
Capacity~160,000 tonnes of cargo

MV Derbyshire was a British ore-bulk-oil combination carrier built in 1976 by Swan Hunter, as the last in the series of the Bridge-class sextet. She was registered at Liverpool and owned by Bibby Line.[2]

Derbyshire was lost on 9 September 1980 during Typhoon Orchid, south of Japan. All 42 crew members and two of their wives were killed in the sinking. At 91,655 gross register tons, she is the largest British ship ever to have been lost at sea.[3]


MV Derbyshire was launched in late 1975 and entered service in June 1976, as the last ship of the Bridge-class combination carrier, originally named Liverpool Bridge. She and English Bridge (later Worcestershire and Kowloon Bridge) were built by the Seabridge Shipping Ltd. consortium for Bibby Line. The ship was laid up for two of its four years of service life.[4]

In 1978, Liverpool Bridge was renamed Derbyshire, the fourth ship to carry the name in the company's fleet. On 11 July 1980, on what turned out to be the ship's final voyage, Derbyshire left Sept-Îles, Quebec, Canada, her destination being Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, though she foundered near Okinawa, in southern Japan. Derbyshire was carrying a cargo of 157,446 tonnes of iron ore.[5]

On 9 September 1980, Derbyshire hove-to in Typhoon Orchid, some 230 miles (370 km) from Okinawa, and was overwhelmed by the tropical storm, killing all aboard. She never issued a mayday distress message.[5] The ship had been following weather routing advice by Ocean Routes, a commercial weather routing company.[6]

The search for Derbyshire began on 15 September 1980 and was called off six days later. When no trace of the vessel was found, it was declared lost. Six weeks after Derbyshire sank, one of the vessel's lifeboats was sighted by a Japanese tanker.[7]

Derbyshire's sister ship Kowloon Bridge was lost off the coast of Ireland in 1986, following the observation of deck cracking, first discovered after an Atlantic crossing.[8] In the wake of this second disaster, Nautilus International, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the International Transport Workers' Federation funded a new investigation, sought by relatives of the Derbyshire victims.[9]

Further investigation[edit]

In 1994, a deep-water search began. In June 1994, the wreck of Derbyshire was found at a depth of 4 kilometres (2.5 mi), spread over 1.3 kilometres (0.81 mi).[10] A subsequent expedition spent over 40 days photographing and examining the debris field, looking for evidence of what sank the ship. Ultimately, it was determined that waves crashing over the front of the ship had earlier sheared off the covers of small ventilation pipes near the bow. Over the next two days, seawater had entered through the exposed pipes into the forward section of the ship, causing the bow to slowly ride lower and lower in the water.[citation needed] Eventually, the bow was made vulnerable to the full force of the rough waves, which caused the massive hatch on the first cargo hold to buckle inward, allowing hundreds of tons of water to enter within seconds. As the ship started to sink, the second, then third hatches also failed, dragging the ship underwater. As the ship sank, the increasing water pressure caused the ship to be twisted and torn apart by implosion/explosion, a property of double-hulled ships in which the compression of the air between the hulls causes a secondary explosive decompression.[citation needed]

The formal forensic investigation concluded that the ship sank because of structural failure and absolved the crew of any responsibility. Most notably, the report determined the detailed sequence of events that led to the structural failure of the vessel. A third comprehensive analysis was subsequently done by Douglas Faulkner, professor of marine architecture and ocean engineering at the University of Glasgow. His 2001 report linked the loss of the Derbyshire with the emerging science on freak waves, concluding that the Derbyshire was almost certainly destroyed by a rogue wave.[11][12][13][14][15]

Work by sailor and author Craig B. Smith in 2007 confirmed prior forensic work by Faulkner in 1998 and determined that the Derbyshire was exposed to a hydrostatic pressure of a "static head" of water of about 20 metres (66 ft) with a resultant static pressure of 201 kilopascals (29.2 psi).[a] This is in effect 20 metres (66 ft) of seawater (possibly a super rogue wave)[b] flowing over the vessel. The deck cargo hatches on the Derbyshire were determined to be the key point of failure when the rogue wave washed over the ship. The design of the hatches only allowed for a static pressure of less than 2 metres (6.6 ft) of water or 17.1 kilopascals (2.48 psi),[c] meaning that the typhoon load on the hatches was more than ten times the design load. The forensic structural analysis of the wreck of the Derbyshire is now widely regarded as irrefutable.[16]

Fast-moving waves are now known to also exert extremely high dynamic pressure. It is known that plunging or breaking waves can cause short-lived impulse pressure spikes called "Gifle peaks". These can reach pressures of 200 kilopascals (29 psi) (or more) for milliseconds, which is sufficient pressure to lead to brittle fracture of mild steel. Evidence of failure by this mechanism was also found on the Derbyshire.[11] Smith has documented scenarios where hydrodynamic pressure of up to 5,650 kilopascals (819 psi) or over 500 metric tonnes per square metre could occur.[d][16]


The memorial in Liverpool

A bronze plaque was placed on the wreckage as a memorial to those who were lost.[7]

On 21 September 1980, the Bibby Line vessel Cambridgeshire held a memorial service for Derbyshire in the area the vessel was lost.[citation needed]

The 20th anniversary of the vessel's loss was marked by a memorial service in Liverpool, England, which was attended by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, himself a former merchant seaman.[17] Ten years later a memorial service was held in the vessel's home port of Liverpool on the 30th anniversary of Derbyshire's loss.[18]

A permanent monument was dedicated on 15 September 2018 in the garden of the Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas, Liverpool.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Equivalent to 20,500 kgf/m2 or 20.5 t/m2.
  2. ^ The term super rogue wave had not yet been coined by ANU researchers at that time.
  3. ^ Equivalent to 1,744 kgf/m2 or 1.7 t/m2.
  4. ^ Equivalent to 576,100 kgf/m2 or 576.1 t/m2.


  1. ^ a b c d "7343085". Miramar Ship Index. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  2. ^ "MV Derbyshire - HC Deb 03 July 1996 vol 280 cc883-904". Hansard / House of Commons proceedings. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  3. ^ "List of websites and links of the enquiries of Derbyshire sinking". Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  4. ^ "What really happened to the Derbyshire". Archived from the original on 17 September 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  5. ^ a b "The final voyage of MV Derbyshire". Liverpool Museums. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  6. ^ Marston, Paul (9 November 2000). "Crew cleared over sinking of Derbyshire". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  7. ^ a b Mearns, David. "Searching for the Derbyshire". Archived from the original on 13 August 2001. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  8. ^ Cowton, Rodney (13 December 1986). "Public inquiry into Derbyshire sinking ordered by minister". The Times. No. 62640. p. 3. ISSN 0140-0460.
  9. ^ "RMT mourns loss of crew and safety rights on 40th anniversary of MV Derbyshire tragedy". RMT. 9 September 2020. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Conclusions". Archived from the original on 8 April 2000. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  11. ^ a b Faulkner, Douglas (1998). An Independent Assessment of the Sinking of the M.V. Derbyshire. SNAME Transactions, Royal Institution of Naval Architects. pp. 59–103. Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. The author's starting point therefore was to look for an extraordinary cause. He reasoned that nothing could be more extraordinary than the violence of a fully arisen and chaotic storm tossed sea. He therefore studied the meteorology of revolving tropical storms and freak waves and found that steep elevated waves of 25 m to 30 m or more were quite likely to have occurred during typhoon Orchid.
  12. ^ Faulkner, Douglas (2000). Rogue Waves – Defining Their Characteristics for Marine Design (PDF). Rogue Waves 2000 Workshop. Brest: French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea. p. 16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2016. This paper introduces the need for a paradigm shift in thinking for the design of ships and offshore installations to include a Survival Design approach additional to current design requirements.
  13. ^ Brown, David (1998). "The Loss of the 'DERBYSHIRE'" (Technical Report). Crown. Archived from the original on 22 March 2013.
  14. ^ "Ships and Seafarers (Safety)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 25 June 2002. col. 193WH–215WH. The MV Derbyshire was registered at Liverpool and, at the time, was the largest ship ever built: it was twice the size of the Titanic.
  15. ^ Lerner, S.; Yoerger, D.; Crook, T. (May 1999). "Navigation for the Derbyshire Phase2 Survey" (Technical Report). Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution MA. p. 28. WHOI-99-11. Archived from the original on 4 February 2017. In 1997, the Deep Submergence Operations Group of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution conducted an underwater forensic survey of the UK bulk carrier MV Derbyshire with a suite of underwater vehicles. This report describes the navigation systems and methodologies used to precisely position the vessel and vehicles. Precise navigation permits the survey team to control the path of the subsea vehicle in order to execute the survey plan, provides the ability to return to specific targets, and allows the assessment team to correlate observations made at different times from different vehicles. In this report, we summarize the techniques used to locate Argo as well as the repeatability of those navigation fixes. To determine repeatability, we selected a number of instances where the vehicle lines crossed. By registering two images from overlapping areas on different tracklines, we can determine the true position offset. By comparing the position offset derived from the images to the offsets obtained from navigation, we can determine the navigation error. The average error for 123 points across a single tie line was 3.1 meters, the average error for a more scattered selection of 18 points was 1.9 meters.
  16. ^ a b Smith, Craig (2007). Extreme Waves and Ship Design (PDF). 10th International Symposium on Practical Design of Ships and Other Floating Structures. Houston: American Bureau of Shipping. p. 8. Retrieved 13 January 2016. Recent research has demonstrated that extreme waves, waves with crest to trough heights of 20 to 30 meters, occur more frequently than previously thought.
  17. ^ "Prescott remembers Derbyshire victims". BBC News. 9 September 2000.
  18. ^ Stewart, Gary. "Memorial service to remember loss of MV Derbyshire". Liverpool Daily Post. Trinity Mirror. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  19. ^ "RMT supports MV Derbyshire Families Association". RMT. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2020.

External links[edit]