Video/Gallery: Survivors of European Gateway disaster recall the tragic accident on its 31st anniversary in Felixstowe

A memorial paying tribute to the people who died in a maritime disaster off Suffolk's coast 31 years

A memorial paying tribute to the people who died in a maritime disaster off Suffolk's coast 31 years ago today has beeen unveiled at the cliff tops in Wolsey Gardens in Felixstowe. Cllr Mike Deacon next to the memorial. - Credit: Archant

Survivors of a maritime disaster in which six people died have recalled the terrifying moment the ship began to sink and the amazing bravery that saw them safely home.

As a memorial was unveiled honouring those who lost their lives when the European Gateway sank off the Felixstowe coast 31 years ago today, many of those fortunate enough to have made it back alive gathered to pay their respects.

Simon Dowers was a 23-year-old able seaman resting in his bunk when the cargo ferry struck another vessel just before midnight on December 19 1982.

“I felt the ship take on a heavy movement then I heard the hooter sound the call to abandon ship,” he said.

“I can’t remember feeling terror or fear, I just remember my training kicking in and doing what we were supposed to do.”

After recognising the danger of the situation, Mr Dowers went to the port side of the ship to help roll out the lifeboats, only to find his path blocked by the encroaching waters. Moving across to the starboard side, this time he found the boats trapped.

“We couldn’t get them away, so the option was to climb around or to jump into the sea - I took that decision,” he said.

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“My main memory is that the sea is quite cold in December - that stuck in my mind for a while.”

Though Mr Dowers was picked up by one of the rescue boats that attended, the young men he jumped with was not so lucky.

Tony Mason, was another who drowned, his name forever etched in the memory of George Lawn, a lorry driver on board, who pulled him out of the icy sea.

“I can rarely remember names, but that’s one I will never forget,” he said.

Two more truckers, Paul Clayden and Ivan Hardy, had been sharing a cabin when the warning sounded.

“I was thrown out of the top bunk and landed on something soft, which turned out to be Ivan,” said Mr Clayden.

The two men were guided out of total towards by a “pinprick of light” where they found an engineer who led them through the ship, exiting at its funnel.

There they waited with 31 other passengers and crew until a pilot boat captain risked his life to manoeuvre within inches of the sinking ship allowing them to cross to safety.

“It was an amazing act of bravery,” Mr Clayden said.

“He couldn’t have known whether the ship was going to turtle on top of him but it was a good job he was there.”