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Sea mystery solved after two decades

Sea Shipping is essential for the supply chain industry — but also a dangerous one. In the last year, many significant accidents occurred throughout ocean travel, with one of the most notable one being – fire of the automobile carrier Felicity Ace. Statics shows, cargo ships suffered the most losses at sea worldwide during 2021-22.

Notably, the disaster that comes to mind when talking about shipwrecks is the passenger liner Titanic. However, in the world of cargo, one of the most shocking remains is the sinking of the MV Derbyshire in a mystery that lasted almost 2 decades. Operated by a Liverpool firm the MV Derbyshire, an oil, bulk, and ore (OBE) carrier was built in 1976, according to National Liverpool Museums. After four years, the ship embarked on a journey from Canada to Japan that was to last from July to September. Unfortunately, a few days before arriving at its final destination, the Derbyshire became the largest British merchant ship to sink. Nearing Japan, the vessel encountered a typhoon in the South China Sea. A severe storm was reported in it’s last transmission, without any distress signal. The ship disappeared without any trace with all 44 people aboard. A search commenced on September 15th, 1980, but was called off after a week as authorities declared it lost with no evidence or wreckage found.


There were too many questions left unanswered. How could a massive ship disappear without a trace? The government of UK chose not to undertake a formal investigation due to the lack of evidence and instead enlisted two independent companies to investigate the incident. The families of those lost joined and created the Derbyshire Family Association (DFA) to campaign for a formal investigation. The fight reignited post Tyne Bridge and MV Kowloon — two of the Derbyshire’s sister ships — damage near frame 65, supposed weak point in the ships’ structure. This led the U.K. government to launch a formal investigation. Unfortunately, it was reported, that the Derbyshire was probably overwhelmed by the forces of nature in Typhoon Orchid, and no firm conclusion was drawn. The families were outraged and continued to fight in their quest for the truth.

The Derbyshire found:

May 1994, the International Transport Federation (ITF) funded the search for the wreckage. Post 23-hour excursion, United States-based firm found the sunken Derbyshire. Using specialized underwater vehicles and sonar, the team was able to identify the wreckage. Liverpool Museums says 135,774 still photographs were compiled. Frame 65 was not the cause of the wreck — instead, it was a human error. A hatch at the bow, “Bosun’s store,” was mistakenly left open, causing the bow to sink, quickly dragging down the ship. However, the ship’s former chief officer who was moved off the Derbyshire’s crew right before its final voyage, came forward to say the hatch was secured a different way. Finally, the fresh and final formal investigation lasted 54 days but arrived at a different cause for the sinking.

It was concluded that Typhoon Orchid, was supposed to be much stronger than typical typhoons. Derbyshire was battered for days with waves crashing onto the ship and damaging its No. 1 hatch. As the storm progressed, other hatches flooded and gave way until the ship finally sank. Post this, numerous regulations have been created to build stronger ships and promote greater safety at sea.

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