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Felixstowe: Our fight to honour the victims of the European Gateway disaster

PUBLISHED: 08:00 20 December 2012

The European Gateway, which capsized off the coast of Felixstowe

The European Gateway, which capsized off the coast of Felixstowe

IT is 30 years since the European Gateway ferry capsized off the coast of Felixstowe, killing six people. Memories of that night in December 1982 are still etched in the memories of the survivors and people who lived in Felixstowe at the time. Today the Star calls for a permanent memorial to honour the victims of the disaster.

IT is a night that has lived with the survivors and those who witnessed it for the last 30 years.

Six people lost their lives when the European Gateway ferry, which was travelling to Zeebrugge, collided with the inbound Speed Link Vanguard just before midnight on December 19, 1982.

A massive rescue operation was launched as the scale of the disaster, which happened just off the coast of Felixstowe, quickly became apparent.

All available boats and harbour tugs were sent to the scene to rescue as many people as possible on the vessel and later, a headcount revealed six had died.

The wreckage remained visible off the coast for many months before it was eventually righted and towed away.

And while the disaster has remained etched in the minds of those who witnessed it, a memorial has never been erected.

Today the Star is calling for a permanent monument to the victims of the tragedy, on the seafront, to mark the events that happened in December, 1982.

And community figures have backed our call.

Felixstowe mayor Mike Deacon recalled seeing the ship laying on its side for many months.

He has pledged to look into the possibility of gaining a memorial to the victims at the Town Council’s finance and general purposes committee meeting in January.

He said: “I do remember that ship sinking and it was truly awful.

“It was just horrible, it really was, it was one of those things that I will never forget.

“I am surprised that nobody has come forward before to source a memorial and I would instigate an investigation into whether one can be provided.”

Felixstowe councillor and former mayor Doreen Savage added: “I think it is a lovely idea for a memorial - a lot of those disasters go down in history and we need to keep them alive.

“The immediate thought (for a memorial) is something that is useful, something that people can use, like a telescope.

“Because people get so much enjoyment out of watching the ships, some sort of point where you could have a telescope for people would be good.

“There is such a convergence on the viewing point to watch the ships – maybe it would be nice to have something else on the seafront.

“Something tangible to remember the tragedy would be a good idea.”

Ian Heeley, who worked at the port at the time, added: “My father was working in the port the same as I was and he was in charge of receiving bodies and survivors in the Dock Basin.

“I think it (memorial) is something that is long, long overdue.

“I think there should be a memorial whether it is a plaque on the Town Hall or a memorial on the seafront.”

Mrs Savage was one of the people on the European Gateway on the day it capsized, for a carol service.

She described it as a happy occasion but she was left stunned when news filtered through about the events of that night.

She said: “We had been on it in the afternoon and we left about 5.30pm.

“The next thing we knew at midnight there was a phone call to say it had gone down.

“It was awful from the point of view that the people you had just shared a joyous occasion with were no longer alive.”

The deputy harbour master at Harwich at the time was Rod Shaw.

Speaking to the Star this year following the Costa Concordia Disaster, he said: “Initially there was a collision, which is bad enough, but it wasn’t until six minutes later that we realised it was turning into a disaster,” he said.

“When they said it was turning over I remember thinking ‘it’s impossible because it’s a modern ship’.

“That was a long night for us and there were a lot of lessons to be learnt.”

■ What kind of memorial would you like to see erected for the victims of the disaster? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or you can e-mail starletters@archant.co.uk

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