View Full Version : Bantry Bay,25 years ago

Goldie fish
9th January 2004, 06:13
Most of you will be too young to remember one of the worst maritime disasters of recent times,which Occurred in the Whiddy Island Oil terminal,not far from Bere Island,on the 8th of January 1979.
The 140,000 tonne oil tanker Betelgeuse,while unloading her cargo at the oil terminal,suffered a catostrophic explosion,and was destroyed,killing 51,including the crew of the French Owned vessel,as well as local workers,and the Bantry Pilot.
The explosion broke the ships hull in two,and much of the wreckage was a landmark in the bay,albeit a sad reminder,for many years after.
Today you can still see the Storage facility,which still operates,however the relic of the jetty which was destroyed in the explosion remains to this day,and is easily visible from land for anyone who has visited Bere Island.
The explosion was heard up to 20 miles away. At the time our SAR facilities were almost non existant on the south west coast,but local boats soon realised that searching the burning black sea for survivors was impossible. I remember the fire burned for some time,damped down by the firefighting tugs stationed nearby,but the Black plume could be seen clearly as I looked west from my own house,though we were almost 70 miles away.
An investigation revealed it was caused by a design flaw,which also caused the loss of its sister ship "Devonshire",and the absence of an inert gas system aboard the vessel.
The Owners of the vessel,Gulf,made many promises,railroaded the inquiry proceedings with their corporate "spin" and abandoned Whiddy Island and Ireland,leaving a sad reminder of a tragic day,and little else.

Whiddy island still serves as a storage facility,but loading and unloading is now done from a floating Buoy,rather than a fixed jetty.
The Monument to the disaster in Bantry

9th January 2004, 06:47
My Dad was working in the old IIRS at the time (In fact he retires next July). He told me that the brought portions of the hull to Dublin for testing and that there was so much rust throughout the vessel that the iron oxide basically acted like thermite and increased the power of the explosion.

As some of my dads tales can be a bit tall, I will leave it up to our resident Pyromaniac YJ to let me know the validity of that one.


17th January 2004, 22:35
Eh.....Goldie beg to differ but the vessel that exploded at bantry was a tanler .....the vessel the 'derbyshire' was a bulk carrier. the Derbyshire was lost in the south china sea during a typhoon ....the cause is reckoned to be that she lost a hatch cover and the ingress of water broke her back.

I think the comparison that you wish to make is with the Kowloon Bridge which was also a swan Hunter built bulk carrier . The said vessel ran aground on the Stags Rocks in 1987 and was broken up.

The alledged design fault in these sister ships was the lack of longitudal stiffnerers........which gave the vessels a tendency to flex in heavy seas.... as a result if their cargo shifted or became overloaded the back of the ship would snap with fatal results......

Its alright Goldie I know you were only testing me.

Interestingly enough the remains of the hulk was towed out to sea to be sunk but due to a pocket of air trapped in the bow it refused to do so......

Naval Service to the rescue and The L.E. Deirdre had to fire 40mm rounds into the foward section to sink it.

More useless info.......the minesweeper L.E. Banba had a diver down.....the Former LT Cdr Dan O Neill and he ran into air supply problems at the jetty and was nearly drowned..

I vividly remember the reports of the accident on the TV back then and was amazed to see the remains of the jetty on my first visit to the area when I was in the NS.

Goldie fish
18th January 2004, 02:16
Funny enough I also doubted that story myself murf,it was something mentioned in the local papers..though I do know that Derbyshire may have been an OBO,rather than a pure bulker. She was carrying Ore at the time she sank/broke up/dissapeared..
Losing the hatch cover caused her loss,but did not explain why she Broke up so violently.
Thank you for correcting me on the Ships name by the way..it explains why I could not find any details....


18th January 2004, 18:16
Ah ! Now i understand...you got the article from somewhere else.

I thought it was unlike you to make such an error.

Who published the original? Maybe he needs to know of this error?

Goldie fish
5th June 2004, 11:30
TG4 had an interesting documentary(as they often do) about this disaster recently,and using archive footage gave an interesting tale of what happened.
Betelgeuse was due to head to the breakers after delivering her cargo to Whiddy,having been diverted there after experiencing rough seas in the Bay of Biscay. This was at a time when the Suez Canal was still closed to larger traffic,and the VLCCs had to round the cape when transitting from the Arabian oilfields to europe or the US.
As Betelgeuse entered bantry Bay,she met her sister ship,Casiopee,which was also heading for the breakers yard.What is known of what then happened for sure is that while she was being offloaded,the front and rearmost tanks were unloaded first,causing the bow and stern to become lighter and more Buoyant than the centre of the tanker. Physics being what it is,the heavier mid section broke away from the rest of the ship,in a massive explosion which demolished the accomodation section where most if not all of the crew were located. the centre section soon sank,leaving the bow sticking famously out of the water surrounded by an oil fuelled fire..The refinery workers who had been working on the jetty(which could only be accessed by water) were unable to escape the intense heat and all were killed,presumaby by fire,but many would also have drowned in an attempt to escape the jetty by jumping into the burning sea.
The fire was so intense that when the alarm was raised,local boats were unable to get close,as the windows in their wheelhouses began to heat and crack. It is at this point however that there are many questions.
The locals in Bantry give the explosion happening somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes BEFORE the Oil Company state it happened. The inference being drawn from this is that whoever should have been monitoring the unloading was not where they say they were at the time in question,and the time was altered..they were also not in a position to begin evacuating the refinery workers before the fire got out of control and perhaps there were a matter of minutes where an evacuation could have been successful? Could men have been in the water waiting for rescue,only to find themselves surrounded as time passed by burning oil? Lots of questions..few answers..

It is an interesting story nonetheless and i would like to see someday someone like Daire Brunicardi,who has written so well on Naval and Nautical matters in the past,and who was involved in the Coordination of the rescue/search/Salvage of the ship,would write a final account of what happened on that day,which is fading fast from memory as one of the worst disasters to affect the west cork seafaring community.

6th June 2004, 01:31
modern tanker s are pumped full of inert gases to replace the cargo which leaves many highly volitile gases behind ... this was not the case with the betelguese and was actually one of the better points to arise from the disaster. there should have been fire fighting vessels on standby durin the unloading of any such vessel but this was not the case ..another lesson learned.

the whole scenario on that level ahd never been envisaged ..but in fairness lessons have been learned...i think also that the whole situation does require and impartial publication given the magnitude of the situation.

6th June 2004, 01:48
"one of the worst disasters to affect the west cork seafaring community"
The worst disaster by far I'd say, not just to the seafaring community in west cork but to the Bantry region in general as it has never really recovered financially from the economic loss of the initial terminal. The new setup will never provide the same levels of income as the old setup did. The town has failed to develop in the same way as some other West Cork towns in the past 25 years and if the disaster had not happened I have no doubt Bantry would be quite a vibrant port and town. Nowadays they can't even secure funding for refurbishment of the existing and quite dilapidated pier while some of it's west cork neighbours get grants for planting flowers.

15th November 2004, 09:29
hptmurphy, excellent info. One small correction, the diver in question was Danny O'Neill, retired as Cdr. (Elec.). The oil in the water jammed his demand valve.

Goldie fish
15th November 2004, 09:33
Welcome Gerry. Always good to have a few more aboard

15th November 2004, 21:46
I stand corrected....I met the man during one of Eithnes refits.

Welcome aboard Gerry ..obviously you know your stuff ...keep it coming.

Goldie fish
11th January 2005, 09:09
26 years now.

13th January 2005, 07:50
this is the crew rom the grainne from in or around the time ...I can put nanes to a ccouple of the faces

Goldie fish
13th January 2005, 08:01
Black caps?

13th January 2005, 08:26
wimter time wornbetwen september and april only phased out in then early eighties...in favour of berets for working dress and wfite caps for service dress

9th February 2005, 13:53
Jeez Murph....how can you make anyone out in that pic?....Can barely make out some of the faces!

Goldie fish
16th July 2007, 22:10
Tomorrow night on Tuesday 17 July 2007 8.30pm, a series of documentaries begins on RTE1. The first of these deals with the Whiddy disaster.

The first programme is the series reveals the story behind the Whiddy inferno. On January 8th January 1979 an oil tanker, the Betelgeuse, exploded at Gulf Oil's Whiddy Terminal, Bantry Bay. The explosion was of such magnitude that it was heard as far away as Kenmare. The resulting inferno killed 50 people, and created a major environmental disaster.

The explosion was heard much further away than kenmare, which is only over the hills. It was clearly heard in Skibbereen. We could see the smoke plume from my house in east cork, about 80 miles away.

golden rivet
17th July 2007, 14:59
Tomorrow night on Tuesday 17 July 2007 8.30pm, a series of documentaries begins on RTE1. The first of these deals with the Whiddy disaster.

The explosion was heard much further away than kenmare, which is only over the hills. It was clearly heard in Skibbereen. We could see the smoke plume from my house in east cork, about 80 miles away. I was on the grainne and we went there on the third day after it happened also there was a french minesweeper called the liseron lt/cdr costello was the captain hard and dirty times as the intake of the 40 horse power and gemini kept clogging up with crude oil any general questions about it just ask..

Goldie fish
17th July 2007, 19:47
I understand Setanta, with Lt Cdr Brunicardi was also involved in the recovery operation. I remember seeing on the news the oil encrusted bodies being recovered from the sea.

golden rivet
18th July 2007, 12:55
I understand Setanta, with Lt Cdr Brunicardi was also involved in the recovery operation. I remember seeing on the news the oil encrusted bodies being recovered from the sea. I dont think setanta was involved ourselves and the french crew carried two coffins as a mark of respect to the two countries that was involved.. deirdre relieved us after 3 weeks. and then it was us and fola on rotation for a long time .. worst thing you were at anchor all the time and used for all different ops

Goldie fish
15th December 2008, 08:53
Man born the night his father died among Betelgeuse mourners

By Eoin English
A MAN who was born on the night his father died in Ireland’s worst maritime disaster will be among those attending a special commemorative event next month to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy.

Liam Shanahan, who turns 30 on January 8 next, will spend the day in Bantry as people gather to remember his father and the others who were killed in the 1979 Whiddy Island disaster in Bantry bay.

The commemorations will feature a Mass and wreath-laying ceremony.

Dozens of French nationals, whose relatives died in the disaster, are also expected to travel to Bantry.

A total of 50 people — 42 French nationals, seven Irish nationals and one Briton — died in the early hours of January 8, 1979, when the 11-year-old Betelgeuse oil tanker exploded as it off-loaded its oil at the offshore jetty at Whiddy Island.

The force of the initial explosion blew men from the jetty into the sea.

The Betelgeuse became engulfed in a ball of fire and a series of further explosions broke the vessel in half, igniting the oil cargo still on board.

Temperatures reached an estimated 1,000C sending giant plumes of thick black smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air.

Firefighters couldn’t get close to the burning ship and fought to prevent the other blazes spreading to oil storage areas elsewhere on the island.

It was two weeks before clouds of toxic and inflammable gas cleared to allow the recovery of bodies to begin. Only 27 were found.

Liam’s father, Liam Snr, from Ballydehob was among those who died.

In a tragic twist of fate, Liam Snr’s wife was giving birth in Bantry hospital just a few miles away as the disaster was unfolding.

And one of the few original Gulf Oil employees, Joe Tobin, who still works at the terminal, will also attend the commemorative event.

It will be his last working day as he is due to retire.

A Betelgeuse memorial stands in the grounds of St Finbarr’s Church graveyard, overlooking Bantry harbour.


Test Pilot
15th December 2008, 14:30
Naval Service divers were called at that time, to assist in the recovery of bodies from the Betelguese. One diver, I recall was working in total blackout when his reg became clogged with mud. He made a free ascent from depth to the surface safely, without a supply of air. That was D.O'N. Naval safety training paid off here.

Goldie fish
15th December 2008, 17:43
The storage facility is still in use today. However ships now load and unload cargo from a floating buoy, as the jetty was destroyed.

Tanker attached to the Buoy, with the old jetty at Whiddy on the edge of the frame.

The Buoy is in front of the Ship. I had no control over the weather conditions.

The demolished terminal, with Whiddy Island storage facility in the background.

Test Pilot
15th December 2008, 19:18
The storage facility is still in use today. However ships now load and unload cargo from a floating buoy, as the jetty was destroyed.


The floating buoy is a single point mooring and discharge buoy, known as a CALM buoy. ( Catenary Anchor Leg Mooring ). It can discharge oil from a tanker useing flexable hoses while the ship 'weather vanes' 360 deg around it.

It is self contained and consists of the following:

Telemetry and Berthing Aids; to provide the Master and
Operators with information on process and ancillary equipment,
together with berthing data

Load Monitoring Systems; to provide a constant display of the

tension in the hawser

Quick-Release Mooring Hooks; to provide a means for quickrelease

of a tanker in an emergency

Breakaway Couplings; to provide the means to prevent over

stretching of the floating hoses in the event of overload, thus
avoiding any risk of pollution

Electrical swivels; to enable power and instrument signals to be

transferred between the fixed and rotating parts of the buoy

Hydraulic power units and hydraulic swivels; to provide hydraulic

power supplies for subsea applications i.e. PLEM control valve

Solar and wind power systems; to power the navigation aids,

telemetry and berthing aids

Outboard product swivels; to limit the stress on the offloading

hoses and thereby increase hose life

Surge Relief Systems; to provide a means to contain any fluids

that may be relieved due to pressure surges during loading/
offloading operations

Subsea wave, tide and current sensors; to monitor the long term

tide height, significant wave height and wave period.

golden rivet
16th December 2008, 01:04
it would be a nice idea if the navy top brass would provide a bus to the cermony for naval personell serving/retired who were involved to attend this cermony. the bay is a beautiful place in good weather.

Test Pilot
17th December 2008, 18:36
it would be a nice idea if the navy top brass would provide a bus to the cermony for naval personell serving/retired who were involved to attend this cermony. the bay is a beautiful place in good weather.

GR, have you not a bicyle?

golden rivet
17th December 2008, 19:34
GR, have you not a bicyle? not a bad idea to go on one. dont ask tarzan about bikes

cha the tel
17th December 2008, 20:52
Dont ask tarzan about the bicycle or Jimmy C.,will come running after him

Goldie fish
6th January 2009, 19:37
The Evening Echo is running a 3 Part series interviewing people directly and indirectly involved in the tragedy. Tonight it spoke to a son of one of the victims, who celebrated his fourth birthday the day before his father was killed in the explosion.
There is also an amazing photo of the centre section of the Tanker, as it was being towed away to be sunk at sea.

golden rivet
7th January 2009, 09:39
interesting article it was the bow section that was sunk at sea that section was scrapped in spain and a lot of it ended up in irish steel. warship deirdre had the task of escorting it out to sea(bow section) and it fired a lot of 40 mm bofors at it to send it to its final place of rest unfortunately cameras were not common articles with us as they are now and we would have got some interesting photographs the tug in the echo picture is the smit tak helping out the lifting platform taklift a great bunch of lads and we got on great with them during the year long operation while they were there.

Goldie fish
7th January 2009, 19:26
I dont think setanta was involved ourselves and the french crew carried two coffins as a mark of respect to the two countries that was involved.. deirdre relieved us after 3 weeks. and then it was us and fola on rotation for a long time .. worst thing you were at anchor all the time and used for all different ops
Photo tonight of the Funeral that was held for two of the victims. The French Navy carried one coffin, to signify the french killed in the tragedy, while the Irish NS carried the other, to represent the irish men killed in this disaster. I believe some IMO members may have been involved in this funeral party.

golden rivet
8th January 2009, 00:06
the personell visible are pat harrison. derek oakes. jimmy casey, the officer is hugh tully..

Goldie fish
8th January 2009, 23:06

I think it is fair to say that a disaster like this has not happened since. All tankers are fitted with inert gas systems, and enclosed lifeboats are fitted to both Tankers and jettys, thus preventing the main factors that led to the Deaths in Bantry.
I don't think there was a similar disaster after Betelgeuse, in spite of the large amount of Crude that has been carried around the world in the last 30 years . Valuable lessons were learnt.

Goldie fish
9th January 2009, 21:43
By Sean O’Riordan
PRESIDENT Mary McAleese couldn’t make yesterday’s commemoration, but she sent a letter to the victims’ families assuring them her thoughts and prayers were with them.

In the letter, which was read out at the Mass, Mrs McAleese said it was fitting on the 30th anniversary to pay tribute to all those who lost their lives.

But she said she hoped some good had come from their sacrifice because, as a result of the inquiry, safety procedures had increased significantly on tankers, which should help safeguard crews today.

Anchored in the harbour yesterday were two warships. The French sent over the Cassiopee, a minesweeper, and the LÉ Emer represented the Irish Naval Service.

Both crews formed guards of honour at various ceremonies during the day.

Also in attendance was the navy’s commander, Flag Officer Commodore Frank Lynch.

It evoked several memories for him as he was captain of the LÉ Fola, the first naval vessel to respond after the disaster struck.

French ambassador, His Excellency Yvon Roe D’Albert, made his first trip to Bantry for the commemoration, along with his wife Marie-Claud.

He said the families of the French victims would never forget how welcome they had been made to feel by the people of Bantry.

Peter Power, the junior minister for foreign affairs, represented the Government at the ceremonies and said all those involved in perpetuating the memory of the Betelgeuse dead deserved to be thanked for their efforts.

Many people’s hearts went out to Liam Shanahan as he laid one of several wreaths at the memorial. He was born the very night that his father died in the disaster.

Tears welled in the eyes of mourners during that ceremony, which got under way after lone piper Donal Cronin played a lament. Bishop John Buckley gave a blessing at the memorial before the names of each of the dead were read out.

That was followed by a minute’s silence as a mark of respect.


Goldie fish
9th January 2009, 21:45
Ceremonies remember loved ones killed in oil disaster

By Sean O’Riordan
A WOMAN who lost both her parents when the oil tanker Betelgeuse blew up in Bantry harbour spoke publicly for the first time about her family’s grief yesterday — exactly 30 years after Ireland’s biggest peacetime maritime disaster.

Marylene Lasalle was 22-years-old and five months pregnant when she heard the tragic news at her home in France.

Her father, Louis, 54, had been a baker on the French oil tanker that exploded at the Whiddy Island terminal in the early hours of January 8, 1979.

Her mother, Marcelle, 49, wasn’t a member of the crew and “had only gone along for the trip”.

The Frenchwoman said her family had been devastated by the tragedy which claimed the lives of all onboard.

A total of 42 French people died in the disaster. Seven locals also lost their lives and a Dutch diver died during the salvage operation.

Ms Lasalle said: “I really still don’t have any words to explain how we felt, it was very distressing.”

She described the commemoration as “a superb ceremony” and added that the welcome she’d received from local people was “fantastic”.

Her sister was also supposed to attend yesterday’s commemoration, but she lives near Toulouse and heavy snow in that region prevented her from travelling.

Many more relatives of French victims made the trip, including one family which travelled all the way from the West Indies.

Ketty Cassand was 13 when her father, Charles, was killed on the 120,000-ton supertanker.

“I was 13 and I had two brothers who were 14 and 11 at the time. We were preparing to go to school that morning when we heard the news on the radio. I thought the worst,” Ms Cassand said.

Following the tragedy the family left France and moved to the West Indies.

Ketty, her two brothers and mother, Parise, arrived in Bantry on Wednesday.

“This helps us overcome the sadness. We know we are not alone. We have made many friends with people from Bantry who also lost relatives,” Ms Cassand said.

Michael Kingston was one of the locals they were talking about. He celebrated his fourth birthday the day before his father, Tim, died in the inferno which resulted from the explosion on the tanker.

Yesterday he acted as MC throughout the various ceremonies. First he welcomed hundreds of people to the commemorative mass at St Finbarr’s Church and then officiated when several wreaths were laid at the Betelgeuse memorial in the nearby cemetery.

He was also on hand at an emotional moment when families of the victims went out in a ferry to Whiddy Island to place flowers on the sea in memory of their loved ones.

He said it was not only important to remember those who had died and their families, but also those who had helped in the aftermath of the disaster.

Bantry parish priest Fr Robert Brophy told mourners that he could only imagine the horror which gripped the town at the time.

“The Whiddy disaster has left an indelible mark on the minds of every Bantry person. This horrendous explosion shattered lives and the livelihoods of many in the community,” Fr Brophy said.

He told the French visitors the commemoration was a time for prayer, healing and hope and assured them the people of Bantry felt their pain.


19th February 2010, 22:32
I spent many a summer day playing on the beach watching the tankers coming into the island, myself and 2 of my brothers were featured in one of the major english newspapers about the oil that was washed up on the beaches surrounding the island this was about 1968/9 my grandparents, Hannah and James kingston owned a house on the mainland that looked out over the island

Goldie fish
6th April 2013, 21:01
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mFXEU85AyaI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Fascinating documentary about the salvage of the ship. Well worth a watch.

6th April 2013, 22:41
fantastic...and all manged with only two hard hats , and no high vis or life jackets, bouyancy suits or anything even remotely related to health and safety.

Great show really enjoyed it thanks.

Goldie fish
7th April 2013, 00:13
I couldn't help thinking while watching it of the diver who died during the salvage.

7th April 2013, 23:18
Thanks for posting that Goldie, it was fantastic.

Goldie fish
8th April 2013, 00:09
The damage to the accommodation block aft was quite disturbing. It shows the intense forces involved in the explosion and horrendous fire that claimed the lives of its crew and workers at the jetty.
People in Bantry still remember that night, and the remainder of the jetty acts as a constant reminder.
When one remembers that there was no such thing as freefall lifeboats till after this event, no inert gas used during unloading, no double bottoms, no standby FF tug. All brought in after, some as result of this disaster.

8th April 2013, 00:38
Yep the damage to the aft deck was catastrophic - the footage of the engine room was particularly eerie.

Another video on youtube has a comment from a member of another tanker which was due to unload at the jetty after Betelguese and mentions that they heard the crew reporting the fire... it's the stuff of nightmares.

Thanks for sharing the video, Goldie.

(on a lighter note, my ears perked up at the once familiar sound of the Allouette III, she even got a brief cameo!)

8th April 2013, 23:30
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mFXEU85AyaI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Fascinating documentary about the salvage of the ship. Well worth a watch.

Thanks for that Goldie. fascinating documentry.

8th April 2013, 23:45
video was a good watch

Goldie fish
8th January 2014, 21:37
Another sad anniversary, passed today. Now 35 years. The scars remain, both physical, and psychological.


Photos from Sailcork.com on Fb

Goldie fish
9th January 2014, 15:51

Whiddy Island disaster survivor recalls horror of tragedy

Barry Roche

Last Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2014, 07:32

A survivor of the Whiddy Island oil terminal disaster in Bantry Bay, west Cork, yesterday spoke of the impact the tragedy continues to have on him as he marked the 35th anniversary of the calamity which claimed the lives of 50 people.

Brian McGee (68) was on duty as a pumpman at the Gulf Oil terminal on the island when in the early hours of January 8th, 1979, a fire broke out on French tanker Betelgeuse, berthed at the jetty, which triggered the inferno.

“I died that night – the Brian McGee that went to work that night never returned and I’m not the same person,” said Mr McGee who along with his colleague, John Downey, fought to keep the burning wreckage away from 12 80,0000 tonne crude oil tanks on the island.

“I spent this Christmas as I’ve spent every Christmas since, suffering from post-traumatic stress – the joy of Christmas doesn’t exist for me anymore – I can still vividly recall images from that night and unfortunately they keep re-occurring.”

Mr McGee, who is writing a memoir of his experiences that night on Whiddy Island, had hoped to attend yesterday’s anniversary Mass in Bantry for the friends he lost but he said post-traumatic stress leaves him vulnerable to illness at this time of year.

‘Post-traumatic stress’

“I had hoped to go in but I just wasn’t feeling up to it

– the post-traumatic stress just wears me down. I would like to have gone because those who died were my friends – I had worked at the terminal for 10 years and I knew them all well,” he said.

Among those who died were locals Charlie Brennan, Tim Kingston, Denis O’Leary, Neilly O’Shea, Jimmy O’Sullivan and David Warner. Englishman Mike Harris also perished and Dutch diving supervisor Jaap Pols died some days later during the salvage operation.

Some 42 French members of the Betelgeuse crew also died in the tragedy and all were remembered at yesterday’s anniversary Mass at St Finbarr’s Church in Bantry and at a wreath laying ceremony at the Betelgeuse monument at the Abbey cemetery overlooking the bay.

Mayor of Bantry Cllr Aidan McCarthy was among those who attended and he said it was important for those bereaved that it should be remembered.

“It was a horror for the town and some people like to remember it while others want to leave it fade into the past – for those who want to remember it though, the laying of the wreath today at the Abbey graveyard was a very poignant moment as they remembered loved ones.”

© 2014 irishtimes.com


na grohmiti
3rd January 2019, 01:41
As we approach the 40th anniversary of this tragedy I notice RTE earlier tonight showed an episode of "Scannail" regarding the events of the disaster.
I managed to get my hands on the Tribunal report some years ago. Summary can be found at http://www.iaemo.ie/majorAccidentReports/24737653-Disaster-at-Whiddy-Island-Bantry-Co-Cork.pdf
It makes for interesting reading, and clearly shows the attempts made by the Large oil companies to blame anyone but themselves for their mistakes, with no regard how this would impact on the individuals.
They first tried to claim the fire started ashore, but there was no evidence of this, as bodies of some the ships crew were found on the jetty, not someplace they would have been gathering had it been on fire.
They then tried to claim Gardai, and every eyewitness in Bantry were lying about the time when the first explosions were heard, but this was discounted by the tribunal. Explosions were heard by people at the other side of the bay by people who could verify exactly what time it was, or wasn't. The Dispatcher on the terminal was not in the control room when he was supposed to be and a huge effort was made to cover this up. 40 years on it is still unclear where he was. The poor man has had to live with this. The ship was an actual rust bucket, some of the hull plating had diminished to thickness not much thicker than a coin, when it should have been about an inch thick. It was heading for the breakers when it had unloaded, but fate meant it did not unload where it was supposed to, and instead probably suffered further strain when making the journey accross the Bay of Biscay in January. Potential buyers had visited the day before the explosion and took photos detailing its poor condition.
She wasn't the largest tanker to visit Whiddy, While a VLCC with an LOA of 281.6m and a GRT of 61766T she would be considered small compared to the Largest ship to visit Bantry Bay, amid huge publicity, Gulf Oil's Universe Ireland, a ULCC at 345.3m LOA and GRT of 149609T. Indeed the largest tanker currently in service is The FSO TI Europe and its sister ships (Tanker converted to floating storage) vessel at 380m LOA and GRT of 234006T.

The book "The Ninth Ship" deals with the Irish NS experience of the recovery operation, and the realisation that the NS were not in the game at all when it came to diving in anything other than ideal conditions. "Swimming in Guinness" was how one described it. It also mentions how the crude oil damaged the apparatus of one naval diver to the extent that it disintegrated while he was operating it.
I pass the area frequently during the course of my work and have taken to telling my younger colleagues about the history of the jetty, what happened in 1979 and what the SPM is. While the terminal is again fully operational using the SPM, and operated by Zenith Energy. The Jetty remains a constant reminder of what happened. A reminder of what can go wrong when big business buys off governments to avoid safety regulations.

3rd January 2019, 14:14
As we approach the 40th anniversary of this tragedy I notice RTE earlier tonight showed an episode of "Scannail" regarding the events of the disaster.

The book "The Ninth Ship" deals with the Irish NS experience of the recovery operation, and the realisation that the NS were not in the game at all when it came to diving in anything other than ideal conditions. "Swimming in Guinness" was how one described it. It also mentions how the crude oil damaged the apparatus of one naval diver to the extent that it disintegrated while he was operating it.
I pass the area frequently during the course of my work and have taken to telling my younger colleagues about the history of the jetty, what happened in 1979 and what the SPM is. While the terminal is again fully operational using the SPM, and operated by Zenith Energy. The Jetty remains a constant reminder of what happened. A reminder of what can go wrong when big business buys off governments to avoid safety regulations.

Certainly diving to 100feet plus made demands on safety and restricted bottom times ( 14minutes ) for what were essentially Ships Divers. It was formative in that as a result of the Whiddy experience equipment types and quality improved. It would be interesting to evaluate the Insurance outcomes on the destruction of the pier and why it was not expended on it's reconstruction. Overall the ducking and diving ( pardon the unintended pun) of the law and litigants was shameful leading to a festering future for surviving relatives. Well done to Danny, George, Gerry and others.

na grohmiti
3rd January 2019, 20:29
Possibly down to the fact there are still remains, forever amongst the twisted burnt carcass of the jetty. Of the 50 killed on the night I believe only 28 bodies were recovered. Many of those had died from drowning, not fire. The catastrophic explosion after the initial fire caused houses to shake on the other side of the bay, we can only imagine the impact it had on the poor souls on the ship at the time.

golden rivet
4th January 2019, 19:49
it would be a nice idea if the navy top brass would provide a bus to the cermony for naval personell serving/retired who were involved to attend this cermony. The bay is a beautiful place in good weather.
well maybe for the 40th anniversy they will...or maybe the top command were only school children then ,,, sad times.. Anyway we done our part ,,helped with clean up and carried the coffins...

5th January 2019, 23:56
As we approach the 40th anniversary of this tragedy I notice RTE earlier tonight showed an episode of "Scannail" regarding the events of the disaster.

Was watching that the other night only to find out afterwards that a relative died in the disaster.

6th January 2019, 00:01
Reading over this it is sad to note, that Gerry 25 has since passed away, he was of course LtCdr Gerry O'Donoghue Ns ( Retd) , himself a Naval diver and OC diving section. A fine officer and a gentleman.

na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 21:59
Whiddy Island 40 years on: Still a sense of justice not having been done
In Bantry tomorrow, families from Ireland and France will gather to remember the Whiddy Island disaster of 40 years ago — many with questions still unanswered decades later, says Noel Baker
Night turned to day, there was fire in the sky - a world turned upside down. So unreal was the scene in the early hours of January 8, 1979, that all kinds of matter, including the nearest thing to steel fluff you can find, fell down from the heavens around Bantry Bay. One man refers to the nocturnal scene of a crowd gazing at the orange glow as being “like market day”. For one boy fleeing Whiddy Island “it was like Pompeii.” And for four-year-old Michael Kingston, it was the day after his fourth birthday.
The Betelgeuse oil tanker in flames in Bantry Bay at the Whiddy Island oil refinery. Tomorrow, families from Ireland and France will gather to remember the Whiddy Island disaster of 40 years ago. Picture: Richard Mills

When he awoke at 6am that Monday morning, he was entering into a different world. His mother, Mary, took him and his older sister onto her knee and told them “Daddy had gone to heaven.” Tim Kingston was just 31 when he, along with 49 others, were killed after a fire consumed the oil tanker Betelgeuse in a disaster which scarred the sea, threw fire and smoke into the sky, and altered forever the lives of the families of those taken that night.

“I don’t remember any of my other birthdays, but I remember my fourth birthday,” Michael says. The Goleen man is a celebrated lawyer of international standing. Mainly London-based, he was awarded the 2014-2015 Lloyd’s List Global Maritime Lawyer of the Year for his contribution to safety of life at sea, and in July 2015 received the US Coastguard Challenge Coin for his efforts to promote maritime safety by raising awareness about the IMO Polar Code. And it all derives from this moment, when he had barely turned four and his father was taken away.

“I remember the excitement of it being my birthday and my aunt, who had a pub in Goleen, had brought a Tayto box down with coke and crisps and chocolate,” he says of the day before everything changed. “My father had a toy helicopter, and I remember him and my uncle in the back garden and getting it stuck in a tree.

Then I just remember the next day waking up and going downstairs and it being very strange. My grandaunt was in the house, strange people were in the house.

He doesn’t remember saying the exact words, but he was told that, after his mother had broken the news to him, he began letting go of some of the balloons that were still festooned around the house from the day before, informing her: ‘Mummy, I’m sending these balloons up to make Daddy happy in heaven.’”


na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:02
Unsettling auguries

Just reading the opening paragraph of the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Whiddy Island Disaster, delivered in May 1980, it seems there were unsettling auguries.

“The MV ‘Betelgeuse’ left Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf on the 24th November, 1978, bound for Leixoes, in Portugal,” it begins, referring to the large tanker and its cargo of 75,000 metric tonnes of Arabian Heavy crude and 40,000 metric tonnes of Arabian Light crude. “Originally the intention was to call first at Sines, which is south of Lisbon, to lighten ship but the weather was so bad that she could not enter the harbour. Her plans were further frustrated at Leixoes; a ship sank across the entrance to the harbour and she was prevented from calling there and discharging her cargo. She was then instructed to sail to Whiddy Island, which is situated in Bantry Bay, County Cork, and where an oil terminal is operated by Gulf Oil Terminals (Ireland) Ltd. She stopped in Vigo to change some of her crew, and sailed for Bantry on the 30th December. She encountered heavy weather in the Bay of Biscay and after reporting a leakage of oil was instructed to head towards Brest and reduce speed. However, the origin of the leak was discovered and stopped, and the vessel proceeded on passage to Bantry, arriving in the Bay on the 4th January, 1979. She completed berthing at the offshore jetty (which is situated about 1,300 feet (396 metres) off Whiddy Island) at 20.00 hours on Saturday, 6th January.”

It found that the “First Phase” of the disaster began very shortly after 00.30am on January 8, with “a small and localised” fire. It rapidly spread, and by 00.40am the second phase began, with a series of smaller explosions beginning at 00.50am and concluding with a massive explosion around 01.06am.
An image taken at the funeral on February 5, 1979, of unidentified victims of the Betelgeuse oil tanker fire at the Whiddy Island oil terminal in West Cork. Picture: Michael Minihane
“The dispatcher had left the Control Room and did not become aware of the fire until just before 00.45 hours,” it said. “It is highly probable that he was then immediately in radio contact with Mr. [Tim] Kingston (the Pollution Control Officer) who was on the jetty and Captain [David] Warner (the Pilot) who was on the ship. He tried to contact Mr Ash (Gulf Oil Corporation’s general manager in Bantry town) using the emergency telephone to Bantry Exchange, and he succeeded in reaching Mr William Flynn, operations manager. He contacted the Donemark [a personnel launch owned by terminal operator Gulf] on Channel 14 probably at about 00.48 hours. His first message was: ‘Go to the jetty—we have a fire’. This message was overheard on the Snave, the line-boat then moored at Ascon Jetty. At 00.50 hours he contacted the duty tug, the Bantry Bay (moored out of sight of the jetty around Whiddy Point East) using Channel 16, and was overheard by Mr Wong, the second mate of the “Bilbao” anchored 8.5 miles (14 km) down Bantry Bay.

"He said ‘Come quick—we have a fire’. He telephoned Mr Downey at 00.50 hours in the office of the power-house and told him ‘The ship is on fire — do what you can to help’. About one and half minutes after his first call to the Donemark he made a second call to her saying ‘Go as fast as you can, Bruce, to Dolphin and take the lads off’. He made a second call to the Bantry Bay about 2.5 minutes after the first.

He said ‘Are you coming? She has broken her back. She is on fire all over’. He telephoned Mrs Desmond the post-mistress on Whiddy Island and asked her to get help. He received a call from Garda Flynn from the Garda Station in Bantry enquiring if he wanted help to which he replied: ‘Send all the help you can’. This was at about 00.50 hours, and not after 00.55 hours, as Mr Connolly claimed.

The dispatcher was John Connolly, who told the Tribunal he was in the control room. According to the Tribunal report: “Shortly after 00.50 Mr Connolly was still in touch on Channel 90 with Mr Kingston. At this time, Mr Kingston radioed to him to send out the Donemark and Mr Connolly replied: ‘she is on her way’. Shortly after this Mr Kingston radioed again: ‘John, you are on Channel 90’ and Mr Connolly replied ‘I know, turn on Channel 90 and Channel 14’. Some time later Mr Kingston called for the last time: ‘quick, John, quick’.”

Chapter 8 of the report deals with ‘Steps taken to suppress the truth’, and addresses how some evidence from some Gulf workers differed hugely with independent eye-witness accounts. According to the report: “Active steps were taken by some Gulf personnel to suppress the fact that the dispatcher was not in the Control Room when the disaster began.”
The tangled remains of the Betelgeuse oil tanker pictured in July 1980 after the fire at the Whiddy Island oil terminal.
It also referred to inadequacies in Gulf’s pre-disaster safety preparations and fire-fighting capacity and rejects utterly claims made by Gulf that gardaÃ* had lied at the tribunal. It was one of a number of elements which left a sour taste. A string of legal cases dragged on for years afterwards, including relating to charges against John Connolly and others of making false statements to the tribunal. They maintained their innocence and the case was dismissed — on what Michael Kingston terms “a technicality” — in 1984.

The report said: “All the evidence, both technical and that of the eye-witnesses, points to the fact that the initial fire which was present during the first phase of the disaster took place on the ship and not on the jetty.

It also said that “the seriously weakened hull of the vessel was the result of deliberate decisions taken at different times”. Among the conclusions was that “the major share of the responsibility for the loss of the ship must lie on the management of Total Oil SA, the owners of the tanker” and “had the dispatcher in the Control Room observed the initiation of the disaster it is probable that the lives of both the jetty crew and those on board the ship would have been saved.”

There is also an interesting side note in the Tribunal Report: the Betelguese’s sister ship, the Cassiopee, had herself been in Whiddy on January 6 that year and had sailed on from there to her final destination — where she was scrapped.

na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:06
‘It was like Pompeii’
Tim O’Leary hasn’t strayed from home and now runs the Bank House on Whiddy Island. He was living on the island, just a young boy of 12 then. His proximity to the disaster was already too close for comfort, but it could conceivably have been worse. As he recalls, his father, Jim, worked in the Gulf and had tied up the Betelgeuse that morning. Then, luckily, he promptly went on his holidays.

“The only person who is left [on the island from that time] is my mother and she said she is not talking about it any more. She has said enough,” Tim outlines.

His sister, Mary, raised the alarm with the words “There is something wrong with the Gulf.” The O’Learys couldn’t see the jetty from the house so their father, Jim, walked down to see what was going on —

then came the huge explosion.

“He came back and said ‘we are going and that’s that’.

There were five of us. Everyone left the island bar one old woman who stayed, she was not going.

“Going across on the punt, there was no big boat, we were lucky it was a calm night.

“It was like daylight going across the harbour, the light from the flames, the flames were unbelievable.”

They were being thrown 40 metres up into the sky.

“It was like four o’clock in the afternoon,” he says. Recalling material falling from the sky and raining down on top of the cattle sheds. “It was like Pompeii.”

As for the outcome of the inquiry report, he says: “Some of the fellas got a really bad name.”

“They were there when the music stopped. None of the gear worked.
On the 25th anniversary of the fire, Brian McGee, left, and John Downey visit the monument to the memory of those who died in the disaster, at the Abbey Cemetery, Bantry. Brian was the assistant pump man and John was the pump man on Whiddy Island on the night of the disaster. Picture: Denis Minihane
“The whole thing was crazy from top to bottom.”

For all the terrifying, hell-like vision of fire and smoke, the biggest scare was yet to come. It was some weeks after the disaster and Tim’s parents had gone shopping in Bantry.

“I was doing my jobs, after feeding the cows and I turned on the news and heard a diver was killed as well.” It was a Dutchman, Jaap Pols, working on the salvage operation carried out by Dutch firm Smit Tak. He became the 51st victim of the disaster.

“It frightened the life out of me.”


na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:12
Questions linger
Françoise Letellier was just 27 when the Whiddy disaster occurred and was only in the job as the Cork-based French Honorary Consul from the previous May.

On January 8, 1979, she first heard the news of the Whiddy explosion on the news and shortly afterwards got a call from the embassy telling her to go to Bantry.

“When I arrived I was told to go to the Westlodge Hotel, it was the headquarters for the whole thing,” she recalls. “There was a lot of phonecalls, I was dealing with the French interpreting and some of the families were already ringing. Some of them were bringing their children to school to France when they heard that a tanker had exploded in Ireland. They knew their husbands were on board.”

One task involved the doing the paperwork so the bodies could be repatriated to France. As Francoise recalls: “The worst part was when you had to go to the funeral homes and see the coffins and things like that, that I found really terrible, really difficult. Because there was 12 of them.”

Questions asked all those years ago are still being asked now. “Everyone knew that the Betelgeuse was probably not in very good shape but at the same time they [the families] could not understand why could they not be saved. That is the question to this day, why they were not saved.

We know that people were crying for help. The baker’s wife was on board and we know she was found with her handbag and everything, so she was trying to get out, they were all trying to get away. There was nobody to help them.

Ginette Ravaleau, the chairperson of the French-Irish Association, broke her hip the day before Christmas and will not now be able to travel to Bantry. “Her husband [Marcel] was found very, very close to the shore,” Francoise says. “He was a good swimmer and he tried to reach the shore. He was found five metres from the shore.”

Of the families affected, 23 have never had a body returned to them. It would have been 24 but for the remarkable identification more than a decade ago of one of those killed. Francoise received a call from Cork University Hospital to tell her of the breakthrough. “We were all amazed that people were still working on that,” she says, remembering that in the hospital, “on a shelf, they had all the different bottles and the names of people on them. I always remember that. Some of them they had very, very little to identify them.
Aerial view of the oil tanker Betelgeuse in flames at the Whiddy Island oil terminal, near Bantry, Co Cork. The tanker was berthed at the offshore jetty which was situated about 396m off the island.
“It still is haunting them,” she says of the 23 families. “Some of these families will be there [in Bantry], I am travelling with them on the 7th, and their husbands and fathers have not been found yet.”

Francoise stood down as honorary consul five years ago and moved to Brittany. Her trip back to Bantry will be to accompany a group of 44 people, that will include wives, siblings, grandchildren, and two of the French divers who helped search for bodies in the immediate aftermath. “As the families say, I am the only link they have between Brittany and France.”

She has also paid visits to the special memorial to the Betelgeuse tragedy in the Seafarer’s Garden in the Brittany town of Plerin, but the Bantry trip, she says, will be particularly poignant.

“I will because I feel I am part of the group at some point, it will bring back a lot of memories, it was tough,” she says.

“They want answers, all the families. That’s why they keep going. Why did they die?”

French ambassador Mr Stéphane Crouzat is acutely aware of how the incident registered with people back in France.

For all the families, many have had more difficulties in coming to terms with the tragedy,” he says. “Twenty-three of the 42 bodies were never recovered. The healing process was very long.

Like so many, Ambassador Crouzat plays tribute to Michael Kingston as one of the “driving forces” behind not just the changes post-Whiddy that made the oil sector a safer place in which to work, but also in assisting the French-Irish Association of the Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse which has bonded in the decades that followed.

“He has managed to bring together the families — the Irish families of the seven local people who died and the 42 French families.

“It is difficult to say anything good came out [of the tragedy] but one positive was that safety of life was so important — it sped up ratification of the international maritime convention of 1974 [International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea - commonly known as SOLAS Conventions] which had not been ratified at that time. It was terribly sad that it was sped up due to such a terrible loss of life.”

He says of the disaster: “In many quarters it is in the collective psyche.”

Or, as Francoise puts it: “You can’t forget.”


na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:17
‘A horrible tragedy’
Eileen O’Shea was aged just 22 back then and in training for a junior management role in the Westlodge Hotel. Now she is a senior tourism official but on the night of the Betelgeuse tragedy, she was working in the reception section of the hotel, on what seemed like any other Sunday night.

“We had a dance going on the very night this happened,” she recalls. “It was the era of Sunday night dancing, in the main function room. The whole building kind of rocked — we knew something terrible was after happening. Outside the door you could see the smoke.

“The fear at the time was the residents on Whiddy. Everything [at the dance] finished up completely and everybody was just stunned.”
Above, and right, bodies arrive at Cork University Hospital (then Cork Regional Hospital) in 1979 after the Betelgeuse oil tanker fire at the Whiddy Island oil terminal near Bantry, Co Cork.

As the scale of what had occurred became apparent, almost overnight the Westlodge was swamped with calls from at home and abroad and transformed into de facto information hub.

“We had a skeleton staff, working around the clock, it was like a headquarters at the time,” Elaine says. “The memory we have now was of an old-fashioned switchboard where you had to push in the chord.”

She describes the bewildered, febrile scene that night as “bedlam”, with people almost working 24 hours straight, then the following day people started arriving from early morning.

It was a horrible tragedy really, such a gloom. Not only the local families but the French families arriving as well.

“The gloom was not only over the town but [there] for anyone working at the time.

“There was so many different aspects to it, trying to arrange with the French families — that was absolutely shocking, the oil people were looking for meeting rooms at the time. Everybody was trying to deal with it the same way, whether local or French, everyone was just devastated.”

In her current role, she sees how the Whiddy disaster has echoed down the years. “We still get people coming to Bantry to visit the monument in the cemetery,” she says. “We operate the tourist office in the town and we get French people who are relatives and who are not relatives who visit the monument.”

na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:18
‘It destroyed Bantry’

The now-retired JP Twomey was a sergeant at the time in the town and, like everyone else, never had an inkling that anything could go wrong down at ‘the Gulf’.

“I was sick in bed,” he says of that day 40 years ago. “I was at the doctor that morning, I had a dose of tonsillitis, and some time around 1am I heard what I thought was a noise up in the attic. I thought it was the storage tank, that the water might have been off and coming in, but I thought it was a bit too loud for that. Then there was a rap at the window, and my neighbour shouts ‘Whiddy is gone up’.

“I looked out the window and you could see the flames outside. I suppose some of the burnt steel was falling in the yard,” he says, referring to the light foil that dappled some areas in the immediate aftermath — “light stuff, like tissue paper. That fell maybe eight or nine miles out into the country [inland] — a sheet of plywood was found six miles out the road.

“I had to get out straight away and head to the station,” JP says. “The major disaster accident plan was put into operation, people came in from outside stations, ambulances, the fire brigade and during the course of the night, two helicopters, fairly large. The Royal Navy came in from Wales, and they were used afterwards to take some of the bodies up to Cork.”

JP recalls the small hours of that night as “fairly unreal” — “Maybe around 3 o’clock in the morning Bantry was like ... they came in from everywhere, it was like a market day.”

There might well have been an element of dazed curiosity, but before long a black pall of smoke — literal and metaphorical — was hovering over Bantry. “For years after there was a gloom over the town, it destroyed the town,” JP says.
The dark mood was not eased by the work of the tribunal and its report, with many taking issue with aspects of its findings. JP was among the gardaÃ* who took statements, although not many, in his case. He says that while the inquiry may have been imperfect, it was the best reading of the situation at that time.

Now retired 19 years, he has seen the various anniversaries come and go, and the reluctance to talk about it at any great length continue among many of his contemporaries. “They don’t like to talk about it,” he says, adding: “it’s not a very pleasant thing to talk about.”

na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:20
A major mishap
Vivian O’Callaghan, a former chairman of Cork County Council, was a local councillor at the time and owner of the Bantry Bay Hotel. His retelling is full of striking detail.

One personal element was the significant and “very close” working relationship with those involved in the tankers.

“Their office was closed at weekends and as a consequence we used to cash cheques when the crew came ashore,” he recalls. “We used to do that service at the Bantry Bay Hotel so they could go shopping. The upshot was at weekends we would have group of various nationalities, some of them would be staying, with Bantry the usual transit point for people, and they might be staying with us for a day or two.

“In this particular case they weren’t [staying] because the ship was going directly on back to France, they weren’t getting off. The reason I remember it so vividly was they were in to use the phone, to ring up the local exchange. These guys were all coming ashore because they had missed Christmas and missed New Year’s Day [at sea]. They were ringing home.

“Maybe 10 to 20 of them were in in the course of the morning and that night, they were all dead. I can remember them all now, some of them talking. We had the off-licence end of the bar and them using the phone, talking to the wives and them putting on the kids...”

When the unimaginable happened, life had been unfolding at its usual pace. Vivian was still up when the alarm was raised.

We had a bit of a poker school in the hotel on a Sunday night and they were just leaving at a quarter to one o’clock. One man was the boss man at the local labour exchange, a good friend of mine. He came back in and said ‘is it my imagination or is there a fire in Whiddy? Or is it Glengarriff?’

“We looked, and we said it couldn’t be a gorse fire. I went back and locked bar and went upstairs. My wife that time would set table for breakfast. I wasn’t long upstairs and there was a bang and the cups and saucers went down on the floor. That was the explosion that broke the ship in two. We knew then some major mishap was after happening.”

Unreality reigned. “People came in from all quarters, we threw the place open, all kinds of people were coming, my mother was up making sandwiches.” Still no-one was really sure what had taken place, or its awful scale. News emerged during the course of the night, and a local GP, who was also an active fisherman and a fine oarsman, confirmed the worst. He had gone out on one of the first boats and on his return said he knew no one could have survived — “people I was talking to six or seven hours before...”

na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 22:22
A lifetime’s work

Michael Kingston has represented the international Union of Marine Insurance at the International Maritime Organisation. He also carried out the legal reviews on Lloyd’s of London’s 2011 Drilling in Extreme Environments report following the Deep-Water Horizon Disaster; their report, Arctic Opening: Opportunity and Risk in the North Sea; and their 2013 Removal of Wreck report following the sinking of Costa Concordia.

It is starting to look like a lifetime’s work, and he attributes it to the memory of his father and the other victims of the Whiddy disaster.

“That was the situation I was in and the family were in but luckily we had a great aunt and uncle and grandfather and they rallied around us. My mum kept my father’s memory alive — we would pray going to school in the car in the morning and we would pray every night.”

There is still a sense of justice not having been done. He says he trusts the judiciary, but can’t accept why recommendations made in the Tribunal Report by Mr Justice Declan Costello, were not fully implemented. There is a sense that people were not fully held to account, and that the oil companies were not adequately sanctioned for what happened, that the Irish government did not do enough. “There was ample evidence for further action that didn’t happen,” he says.

Michael remembers how, eight months after the tragedy, his father’s body was found, given up by the sea after the Fastnet storm. Others found around the same time were Cornelius O’Shea and Denis O’Leary. He can never forget what happened to them.

Everyone should have been saved,” he says. “The terrible thing is there were radios and David Warner calling for assistance and asking where the safety boats were and for the fire hydrants to be turned on and everyone could hear this and they were not listened to.

His father and others were found to have died from asphyxia from drowning. They were fully clothed. They could have been taken away from the scene if everything had gone to plan, if everything had worked as it should have. But it didn’t.

It’s that memory which drives him to this day, not least in organising the commemorative events that will take place in Bantry tomorrow, 40 years on.

The centre section of the Betelgeuse tanker being raised near Bantry after the disaster in 1979.

“I am concentrating on making sure the memory of those who died are honoured on Tuesday and the amount of people coming from all over the world, physically and through wreaths, we will feel incredibly proud of those whose lives were lost and will see they are honoured properly for once and for all.”

How might he feel when it’s all over? “I hope I will feel I have discharged my duty on their behalf,” he says.

No doubt he has already, no doubt those in Bantry and beyond and the ghosts of those that are gone agree. And they might just have one other thing to say: Happy Birthday, Michael.


na grohmiti
7th January 2019, 23:00
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bantry in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cork?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Cork</a> is preparing to mark its association with one of Ireland’s worst ever maritime disasters. 51 people died in a massive explosion at an oil refinery at Whiddy Island 40 years ago on Tuesday. <a href="https://twitter.com/PaulByrne_1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PaulByrne_1</a> reports: <a href="https://t.co/LPHzzxkyvG">pic.twitter.com/LPHzzxkyvG</a></p>&mdash; Virgin Media News (@VirginMediaNews) <a href="https://twitter.com/VirginMediaNews/status/1082381358855385088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 7, 2019</a></blockquote>
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8th January 2019, 18:56
How far away would the plume have been visible? I have a memory of being able to see it from my home in the western suburbs of Cork...but I was 6 and quite susceptible to believing whatever I was told (especially by my older brother)

8th January 2019, 19:16
Heard nan interview on the radio that there no Government representative at the service today

na grohmiti
8th January 2019, 20:08
How far away would the plume have been visible? I have a memory of being able to see it from my home in the western suburbs of Cork...but I was 6 and quite susceptible to believing whatever I was told (especially by my older brother)

There was an identifiable plume of smoke visible to the west in the sunset from my recollection in from my then home in East cork. Where we lived had more or less flat ground to bantry bay so it was visible, if you looked, from most parts of the County. It is only fifty miles though, and the weather was mild and clear for that time of year. (we had a particularly mediocre summer in 1979 as a result).

na grohmiti
8th January 2019, 20:27
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Officer Commanding LÉ JAMES JOYCE (<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/P62?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#P62</a>) Lieutenant Commander Martin Brett lays a wreath at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bantry?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bantry</a> Abbey Cemetry this afternoon, on the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the oil tanker <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Betelgeuse?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Betelgeuse</a> at Whiddy Island. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WhiddyOilDisaster?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WhiddyOilDisaster</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WestCork?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WestCork</a> <a href="https://t.co/gwtPjwZI5b">pic.twitter.com/gwtPjwZI5b</a></p>&mdash; Irish Naval Service (@naval_service) <a href="https://twitter.com/naval_service/status/1082712020712079361?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 8, 2019</a></blockquote>
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na grohmiti
9th January 2019, 01:21
Whiddy Island disaster: ‘It is something that has never gone away’
The memorial event also served to highlight the simmering sense of injustice felt by many, writes Noel Baker.
https://www.irishexaminer.com/remote/media.central.ie/media/images/w/WhiddyIslanddisaster40thanniversaryJan19A_large.jp g?width=648&s=ie-896431
Laying of wreaths and prayers to mark the 40th anniversary of the Betelgeuse disaster at the Abbey Cemetary in Bantry, Co Cork. Pictures: Dan Linehan

Five lonely islands off the coast of Whiddy — a mesh of rusty iron and concrete, home to the gannets and the odd seagull. But yesterday came some special visitors.
Out on the gently rippling sea the ferry boat brought the families of those who, 40 years ago to the day, lost their lives in the Whiddy Island oil disaster. It was here, back when the five steel and concrete outposts formed the Gulf Oil jetty, that fire consumed much of the Betelgeuse tanker, when oil spilled across the water and fire blew into the sky. Yesterday was the first time that many of those on board the ferry had ever gotten to the scene, the closest previous visitors had ever been. History and memory was in the air.
Everyone was outside as the relatives tossed yellow and red roses into the water near the remnants of the jetty — everyone, bar one. Inside the ferry, Teresa Shanahan was momentarily lost in her thoughts, twirling a sweet wrapper in her fingers like a rosary bead. Her husband, Liam Shanahan, was one of those lost that night. She broke from her reverie and began chatting with an old friend. “I’ve been there and done that,” she said, adding politely that she didn’t want to speak further. After all, it’s been there every day for the past 40 years.
Outside on the rear deck, her daughter Ann Shanahan took it all in. Earlier, at the cemetery as a piper led the cortege to the Betelgeuse memorial, she was in tears. It was tough.
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Ann Shanahan, Ballydehob, Co Cork, who lost her father Liam, on the ferry boat out to lay flowers and wreaths, with her husband Conor and daughters Laura and Emma.
“There is a sense of anger and loss but we are trying to celebrate safety as well,” she said on deck. “It is something that has never gone away.”

Ann, who now lives in Cork, was echoing what Michael Kingston, who lost his father, Tim, in the disaster, had said when he spoke at the Memorial Mass earlier at St Finbarr’s Church. The service celebrated the lives of those lost, and of relatives who have died along the way. Bishop of Cork and Ross, John Buckley, said the suffering for many had been intensified because the bodies of their loved ones were never recovered. They live on in our memories, he said, adding: “We are all pilgrims on the streets of time.”
But the event also illustrated the bond between the French and Irish families. Much of the service was replayed in French and French flags flew in many parts of Bantry, including outside the tourist office and at the water’s edge on the way out to the cemetery. The LÉ James Joyce rested in the bay and Irish naval personnel formed a guard of honour as the families entered the church, led again by the piper. Wreathes from as far away as Alaska and Iceland were laid on the steps.

Inside, it was standing room only, with pews reserved for the families and also for organisations such as the RNLI and the air ambulance. Two specially prepared books in memory of the victims and put together by local school children were presented — one will stay in Bantry, one will return to France.
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Michael Kingston speaks at the Betelgeuse disaster 40th anniversary Mass at St Finbarr’s Church, Bantry, Co Cork. Michael’s father Tim was killed on the night.

It also served to highlight the simmering sense of injustice felt by many. Some people might think that after 40 years an event like this might mean a full stop, but in fact, it has opened up new things. From the altar, Michael Kingston declared it “the day of the underdog”, and let go. The Taoiseach should issue a public apologies to the families of those who died, he said, and those deaths should be declared unlawful deaths.

Addressing some of his remarks directly at the senior government minister in attendance, Fine Gael junior minister Jim Daly, Michael railed at the absence of his senior colleagues, including those whose portfolio covers maritime safety.
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Nora Kingston who lost her father Tim, before placing a hydrangea in the sea during 40th anniversary commemorations of the Betelgeuse disaster at the Whiddy Island pier in Bantry, Co Cork.

He said it was “Trump-esque”, referring also to correspondence he had sent to various ministers at different times in recent years in his capacity as an internationally recognised and award-winning lawyer who specialises in maritime law and safety at sea. In almost each instance, he received no response, yet within months of sending out one batch of correspondence, Rescue 116 pilot Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy and winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith were killed in the tragedy off Blacksod off Co Mayo.

Dara’s father, John, was present yesterday in Bantry, making a presentation to a new cadet.

na grohmiti
9th January 2019, 01:24
Michael said there has been investigations, but there had never been an investigation of Ireland’s maritime framework in relation to that incident. It was another failing, a theme he said went back to before the time his own father was taken. Things left undone, a dereliction of duty, the failure to properly administer justice.

He said Mr Daly now faced “an Andy Burnham moment”, referring to the British Labour MP for Liverpool who helped kickstart the campaign which ultimately led to the fresh Hillsborough Inquiry and subsequent legal actions. His lengthy, forceful address, delivered in even tones, felt like the vocal equivalent of someone upending a table. He received a lengthy standing ovation when he stopped speaking. One person among the throng, scientist Jack O’Sullivan, said: “In my 76 years, that is the most important speech I have heard. Every word is true.”
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A lone piper with French ambassador Stéphane Crouzat and Michael Kingston, who represented the families, leading the families of victims of the Betelgeuse disaster to the ceremony at the memorial at the Abbey Cemetary in Bantry, Co Cork.
Even those not present articulated the same view. In a message conveyed from France, Ginette Ravaleau, who lost her husband 40 years ago and who broke her hip before Christmas, said “the tanker was a bomb”. Her husband died “totally intact”, from hypothermia.
Back on the ferry, Thibaud Spitzbarth was watching over his two children, two-year-old Gabrielle and baby Victor, aged just three months. Thibaud was only six when his father, Jean, died in the disaster. He said people carry those thoughts and feelings in their own ways. “I will be proud of having brought my kids with me these days, so they know. Five years from now I will be able to tell them they were there.”
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Liam Shanahan, born the night his father died on Whiddy Island, at the anniversary Mass.

Tim Kingston’s own boat had been sailed over to the remains of the jetty and renamed ‘Forever Remembered’ for the event.
The flowers hit the water and after a while the ferry boat carrying the party coasted by the fading jetty — five gnarled standing stones. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but it seemed like the current was drawing the floating roses ever closer to them.

na grohmiti
9th January 2019, 02:37
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/rtenews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rtenews</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/westcorkpeople?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@westcorkpeople</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/BantryFire?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BantryFire</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/theskibeagle?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@theskibeagle</a><br>Remembering today is the 40th anniversary of the Whiddy Island oil disaster in which 50 people lost their lives <a href="https://t.co/IrDi3URKiH">pic.twitter.com/IrDi3URKiH</a></p>&mdash; Homestead Post Music (@HomesteadPost) <a href="https://twitter.com/HomesteadPost/status/1082783042702319622?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 8, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

na grohmiti
26th January 2019, 11:52
Tom McSweeney was the first reporter on the scene 40 years ago. Now retired he has a very interesting podcast covering the commemoration.


na grohmiti
8th January 2021, 18:43
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This day 42 years ago – 8 January 1979 – 50 people were killed when the oil tanker Betelguese caught fire and exploded on Whiddy Island, Co Cork.<br><br>42 of those killed were French, seven were Irish and one was British.<br><br>Over one million gallons of oil were released into Bantry Bay. <a href="https://t.co/qxRNd7jkTS">pic.twitter.com/qxRNd7jkTS</a></p>&mdash; This Day in Irish History (@ThisDayIrish) <a href="https://twitter.com/ThisDayIrish/status/1347452988256735235?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 8, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

42 years this morning.