The following is an extract from a recent article in The New York Times. Although it is hardly "news", since the report was published nearly a year ago, MarineTalk makes no apologies for reminding maritime community of this extremely important casualty and investigation. The Derbyshire had been one of the largest and safest ships ever built, a star of the British merchant fleet. Her great size, longer than three football fields, was seen as vital to survival in rough seas. But all that meant nothing in September 1980, when the big ore carrier sank in a typhoon with winds of up to 100 miles per hour and wave heights of 60 to 100 feet.
In 1997, a British-American team lowered robots down 2.6 miles to view the ship's shattered remains at the bottom of the Pacific some 500 miles south of Japan. The findings have prompted London to reopen a formal inquiry on the Derbyshire, the largest British merchant ship ever lost at sea.
But the implications are wider, involving the whole class of vessels known as bulk carriers. Since the Derbyshire went down, the sea has claimed 180 of the ships and 1,465 lives, according to Lloyd's Register of Shipping, which tracks maritime safety. The vessels have been sinking, often mysteriously, at a rate of nearly one a month.
The Derbyshire inquiries have identified a surprising culprit, and they have already begun to shake up ship design worldwide, giving investigators hope that the long string of maritime disasters is at last coming to an end.
After an extensive examination, an investigative team determined that the Derbyshire sank not because of faults in frame 65, a favorite theory, but because of a slow introduction of water into the bow of the ship.
The Likely Culprits
During the storm, an unsecured hatch cover may have allowed water into a small bow storage space. Additional water may have come in through the ventilator heads. 1
Over the next 12 hours, as wave after wave of the storm washed over the deck of the ship, the bow storage areas filled completely, lowering the angle of the ship's bow.
2 As the front of the ship dipped, the waves struck at a more violent angle, smashing the metal cover into the first cargo hold. The hold filled immediately with some 10,000 tons of water.
3 With the bow sinking rapidly, the remaining cargo holds imploded under the weight of the water. As the ship sank further the ocean's pressure crushed unflooded space.
The Derbyshire tragedy is already helping bring change in the bulk carrier industry. Most significantly, new rules call for stronger hatch covers, especially those closest to a ship's bow, where waves pound the hardest. The question remains what about the old vessels?
Full Article By William J. Broad (The New York Times)
Full report available from UK Dept. of the Environment and Transport at a cost of GBP180.00 and Summary costs GBP10.00