The European Gateway on her side off Felixstowe after the accident in 1982 - preparations underway to pull her upright.

Video: Memorial held in honour of those who died in European Gateway disaster off Felixstowe was a ‘fitting tribute’, organisers say

Thursday, December 19, 2013
1.05 PM

A solemn service honouring those who perished in a maritime disaster off the Suffolk coast was held this morning, 31 years after the tragedy cast a “terrible shadow” over the community.

Survivors of the European Gateway catastrophe joined with Felixstowe’s dignitaries and the seafaring community to pay tribute to the six seamen who lost their lives on that fateful night in 1982.

On a crisp winter’s morning, overlooking the shimmering North Sea, where the macabre spectre of the capsized vessel had remained for weeks after the fatal accident, a simple plaque was unveiled.

Former mayor of Felixstowe Mike Deacon, who helped organise the memorial in response to an Ipswich Star campaign, told those gathered at the cliff tops on Wolsey Gardens that the date would remain with him forever.

“I remember leaving home with absolutely no knowledge of what had happened,” he said.

“I drove down the seafront and out of the corner of my eye I saw the wreck of the ship.

“Like the rest of the town I was in absolute shock and it cast a shadow over the community for many, many weeks.”

The cargo ferry was on its way to Zeebrugge, when it collided with the inbound Speed Link Vanguard just before midnight on December 19, 1982, prompting a heroic rescue operation, which saved all but six of the 70 people on board.

But while the disaster remained etched in the minds of those who witnessed it, there had been no official memorial to honour those that died.

Following a campaign launched by the Ipswich Star and BBC Radio Suffolk, Mr Deacon, with the permission of Felixstowe Town Council, sought suggestions for possible tributes.

The Felixstowe Society, East of England Co-operative and Perfitt stonemasons all rose to the challenge and were thanked profusely by Mr Deacon at this morning’s memorial.

Roger Baker, chairman of the Felixstowe Society, added his thanks to the organisers.

“There’s been a lot of work going on in the background and we are very proud to be associated with this partnership,” he said.

United Reformed Church minister Rev Ivor Smith led the audience in a simple prayer remembering those that had died and “all that sail the seas”.

Speaking after the event, Mr Deacon said he was “absolutely delighted” with how it went.

“I think it’s a very fitting tribute,” he said,

The current mayor, Jan Garfield, also welcomed the event.

“It was amazing to see so many ex-mariners who have known each other from various ships around the areas, and I think it’s wonderful to seem them all meeting up with each other again,” she said.