The river Scheldte, from Flushing to Antwerp, has always been a dangerous river with tight bends and many sandbanks.
I was on a large Japanese car carrier, the ’Meiyo Maru’, which was loaded with some 3,000 cars for the European market from Japan.
I had finished my duty and turned in for a well deserved sleep as the local pilot came on board to take the ship up the river.
I was woken at about 5am by a terrific grinding, crashing noise and felt the ship heeling over alarmingly. Very quickly I dressed and raced to the bridge to see what was going on, just in time to see two ships, close together, going aground at the side of the river. One of the ships was a large bulk carrier and the other a general purpose vessel with containers on deck. I could see one of the latter’s lifeboats hanging over the side attached by only one wire. One of our anchors was rattling out, the other having been lost in the collision.
The local pilot told me the story.
Our vessel had to anchor in the river to await the bulk carrier clearing the locks outward through which we had to pass. Two tugs were attached to our vessel to keep her pointing up the river.
The bulk carrier cleared the locks and entered the channel, whereupon the pilot on another vessel coming at speed down the river called to say he would overtake the bulk carrier. The large vessel’s pilot told him not to overtake as they were proceeding very slowly, hence the steering was not so good – a common problem with large vessels.
The other vessel ignored this advice and attempted to pass between the bulk carrier and our vessel lying at anchor. The bulk carrier’s generators failed and she sheered across the river in our direction. With the smaller vessel between us she was hit by the bulk carrier on one side, careered across the river, and scraped down our side – causing extensive damage to the ship’s side plates, luckily above the waterline. About twenty metres of plating peeled back like a large tin can to leave two decks and the cars they contained exposed to the elements.
After long hours in which each Captain sent messages to the other ships blaming them for the damage and delay, we proceeded and entered the port where the cargo of cars was discharged, after which the repair yard welded new plates to cover the gash in our vessel’s side.
That evening I was asked if I liked baked jacket potatoes.
“Of course,” I said, “where did they come from?” (Normally on a Japanese ship they only eat rice.)
“Salvage.” the cook replied. “From the other ship.”
The other vessel had containers on deck and some had been ripped open in the collision, cascading potatoes in amongst the cars.
Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining.
by Terry Took © 2011
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for 49 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.