Tragedy in the North Sea - remembering the European Gateway disaster
PUBLISHED: 12:01 19 December 2019
On December 19, 1982 the people of Felixstowe were going about their Christmas preparations when an accident occured which would affect the town for months and years to come.
The photographs still shock. A bewildered casualty being winched to safety. The ferry European Gateway lying on its side in the North Sea, impotent. Six people died when it capsized.
The roll on-roll off vehicle and passenger ferry was a Townsend Thoresen vessel. It left Felixstowe on December 19, 1982 - bound for mainland Europe in force 8-10 winds. About a mile out, at 10.50pm, it collided with Speedlink Vanguard. This was a British Rail ferry heading towards Parkeston, Harwich.
Holed, the European Gateway listed and capsized. It came to rest, on its side, on a sandbank. The ship had 34 passengers and 36 crew.
Many vessels mounted a major operation. Less than 60 minutes later, nearly everyone on the European Gateway was accounted for. Some needed treatment for the effects of the cold, and were warmed in the sauna of a DFDS ferry.
Half a dozen men were missing. Five bodies were later found; one was not.
You may also want to watch:
Four of the dead were European Gateway crew members. The others were lorry drivers.
The fight for life
Truckers Paul Clayden and Ivan Hardy were in a cabin when the alert sounded. In the dark, they headed for a "pinprick of light". They found an engineer, who led them out through the ship.
They waited with about 30 other passengers and crew until a pilot boat captain risked his life to manoeuvre to within inches of the sinking ship so they could cross to safety.
"It was an amazing act of bravery," Paul 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."
The European Gateway was refloated the following year, and repaired.
In 1984, an inquiry blamed the captains of both vessels. Each was confused about which side to pass and both thought they were taking avoiding action.
That year, a memorial to the dead was unveiled on the cliff tops in Wolsey Gardens, Felixstowe.
Former mayor Mike Deacon, who helped organise the memorial, said: "To see the hull of a ship lying on its side, knowing that people have died, is one of those things I will never forget."
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ipswich Star. Click the link in the orange box below for details.