An account of the events of the night of 21st November 1991
Austin Gill, A.B., M.V. Kilkenny.
The events of that night are still very vivid in my mind after more than 20 years although I often forget things that happened last week. To start my account I will give you a little background about myself.
I first went to sea in September 1979 with B&I line and ironically my first ship was M.V. Kilkenny. Other ships I served on with B&I were: M.V. Wicklow, M.V. Dundalk, M.V. Leinster, M.V. Munster and M.V. Connacht. I stayed 3 years with B&I line and earned my able seaman’s certificate. The call of deep water was strong and I joined Irish Shipping in 1983. I served on M.V. Irish Cedar and M.V. Irish Maple as well as I.S.L. coasters M.V. Tusker Rock and M.V. Daunt Rock before I.S.L. ceased trading. I then joined the Jones Group of Russell Street and served on their coasters which were chartered to Jepsens of Bergen in Norway. M.V. Gotland was next followed by a short stint with Westminster Dredging on the Dublin Bay sewerage pipeline project. M.V. Roseanne for Irish Ferries was next before rejoining B&I line in 1989 starting on M.V. Wicklow. Up to the week of 15th November 1991 I had served only on M.V. Wicklow or M.V. Leinster. On 14th November the B&I line contacted me and asked if I would join M.V. Kilkenny the following day as they were going to be shorthanded. I agreed and joined M.V. Kilkenny for a two week trip. The trip was Dublin to Rotterdam to Antwerp to Dublin twice in the two weeks.
15 Nov 1991
I was on the #45 bus to Dublin City. It was 5pm and the rain was hitting of the bus window. I was thinking of standing at harbour stations in the rain and handling the wet mooring ropes and slippery deck. Not a pleasant thought. To cheer myself up I decided to go to the newsagent under Liberty Hall and buy some gum and a crossword book for the trip ahead. I also bought a lottery scratch card.
I got the #53 bus to the docks and reported on board at 6:30pm. We were fully loaded and ready to sail at 9pm. I was allocated the 12-4 watch and went to bed for 2 hours before my watch started. When I got up at 11:30pm I scratched my lottery card and won £2. Not a lot but it cheered me up. Happy Days!
16 Nov 1991
At sea. Normal activities.
17 Nov 1991
At sea. Normal activities
In the late evening we picked up the Pilot for our approach to Rotterdam. It is a two hour trip up the river to our berth at the European Container Terminal. We started to discharge at 7am on the 18th Nov. at 9:30am we done a full Lifeboat Drill. This included launching the lifeboat into the water and testing the engine. We also used the oars and checked all the equipment and supplies in the lifeboat. The drill went well and everyone involved was happy with the outcome. The whole drill lasted about 1 hour.
We finished loading and sailed for Antwerp later that day.
18 Nov 1991
At sea. Normal activities.
We picked up the Pilot very late in the night. It is a six hour trip to the berth which includes going through the biggest sea locks in the world. (They were at the time) we discharged and loaded as normal and sailed in the very late afternoon of the 19 Nov. I can’t remember if it was late in the night or after midnight when we dropped the Pilot and were underway for Dublin.
20 Nov 1991.
At sea. Normal activities.
21 Nov 1991.
Went the day well (John Maxwell Edmonds 1875-1958)
I think not. I got up at 11am and had lunch with the rest of the crew. It was a nice November day. The sun was shining and there was very little wind. You could see the coast of England on the starboard side. Everyone was in good spirits and looking forward to getting home. I was assigned the job of painting the hatch covings for my watch. After 3 hours of painting my watch was finished and I cleaned up and had a few beers before tea. It was the last time I saw Dave Harding. I went to bed at 6:30pm.
I awoke at 9:45pm and noticed that my cabin light was on. Someone must have called me as it was normal to turn on the light when you called someone for their watch or harbour stations. I was getting out of bed and as soon as I placed my feet on the deck there was a violent thud and I was thrown against the bulkhead. I initially thought we had run aground and went out to the poop deck to see what happened. On the way I noticed that the ship was listing about 15 degrees to port. At this stage I saw Desmond Hayes beside the stairs that links the Petty Officers Deck and the Main Deck. We did not speak to each other. On the Poop Deck I saw the M.V. Hasselwerder with a crushed bow and knew that we collided with her. Some of her crew were shining torches at the damage she had sustained. Donal Connolly, Keith Marry, and Kevin Lambe were on the Poop Deck. The list at this stage was increasing steadily and I decided it was not safe to return to my cabin for my life-jacket or clothing. All I was wearing was underwear. Kevin Lambe said we should all go to the boat deck to try and launch the lifeboat and life-raft. On the way to the Boat Deck I saw Desmond Hayes at the door that leads between the Accommodation and Poop Deck. I don’t know if he was going in or coming out but he was wearing a life-jacket.
It was the last time I saw him. After reaching the boat deck I looked back to the Poop Deck and saw the sea had already come over the port side bulwarks. The situation was critical. I also saw Christy Doyle on the Poop Deck. He was standing on the starboard side of the capstan. As the list was now 45 degrees Christy was in a hopeless position and had no choice but to enter the sea as he could not walk across the deck to the stairs. He was the first person I saw enter the water. We were joined on the Boat Deck by Freddy Kearnes and Mark Woodward. I found a life jacket on the life-raft and gave it to a colleague as he could not swim. He in turn gave me his duffle coat as I had no clothes on. Tony Flanagan had now joined us on the Boat Deck and instructed us to launch the lifeboat. It was hopeless due to the severe list which was now at least 55 degrees. I could now hear the noise of the containers banging off each other as they fell into the sea. The noise of pots and pans and crockery from the Galley smashing was also very prominent. After failing to launch the lifeboat we tried the life-raft but this proved impossible because of the list. Tony Flanagan then said we should enter the water. As we made our way around the accommodation the ship took a violent lurch and everyone went into the water except myself and Freddy Kearnes. We both held onto the handrail and were hanging about 25 feet from the water. I saw that the sea had come over the bulwarks of the port side of the Boat Deck. The ship gave another violent lurch and I lost my hold on the handrail. I started to slide down the deck towards the sea and thought I might break my legs on the submerged bulwarks but this did not happen. When I entered the water I saw that the ship was still capsizing and took off the duffel coat and started to swim away. I swam towards the M.V. Hasselwerder but after about 2 minutes I stopped to conserve my energy as the water was very cold. I threaded water for 5 more minutes and then saw a light in the water. I swam towards this light and it was a colleague.
As I had no life-jacket I assured my colleague that his life-jacket would support both of us. We then started to swim towards the M.V. Hasselwerder but again stopped as it was too far away and the current was hard to fight against. We were motionless in the water for about 10 minutes and then we saw another light. It was the light of the life-jacket of Marcus Calvert the Chief Engineer. We now had 2 life-jackets to support the 3 of us. After a few more minutes we heard voices shouting and singing. It was coming from the direction of the upturned hull of the M.V. Kilkenny. The crew who were on the Boat Deck must have stayed together but we could not reach them because of the strong current. By now I was in the water for about 20 minutes and the early signs of hypothermia started to affect me. All we could was wait and hope. Another 5 minutes passed and the beam of a searchlight danced across the sea towards us. Very quickly we were rescued by the #2 lifeboat from M.V. Leinster. I was pulled from the sea by Clive Castle although I don’t remember anything after seeing the searchlight. The next thing I remember is being on the Dublin Port Tug Colliemore and being assessed by Doctor Webb from Dún Laoghaire. He was transferred to the tug from the Dún Laoghaire Lifeboat. The crew of the tug boat gave us hot drinks and dry clothing. We were then transferred to the Dublin Port Pilot Station and taken to hospital by awaiting ambulances. I was taken to Beaumont Hospital with Christy Doyle, Marcus Calvert, Tony Flanagan and another colleague. We were checked for injuries and kept in for observation. During the night we kept asking about the other crew members but the hospital staff said they did not know much except some of them were in the Mater Hospital. We also had some visitors. I don’t remember who they were except Dingo Merrigan who gave me some cigarettes. One by one we were discharged but I was kept in until 1pm on the 22 Nov due to hypothermia. I saw the news on the television that morning and learned that 3 men did not make it. This was a big shock to me. They were good people and I am glad that I knew them. I served with Pat Keogh on the M.V. Irish Maple and had known Dave Harding and Desmond Hayes since I rejoined the B&I line in 1989. It is hard to believe that at 5 pm on 21stNov I had shared a meal and a laugh with Dave and Desmond. It is a good memory. Without a doubt that was the worst time of my life. It affected so badly that I gave up my sea going career shortly afterwards. I tried to get back but it was too difficult. I worked ashore for B&I line for 1 year and then took up work outside all things maritime.
It took me 3 years to get over that few hours.
I wish to express my extreme gratitude to the following:
- Capt Frank Ford, Chief Officer Clive Castle and all the crew of M.V. Leinster.
- The crews of the Dún Laoghaire and Howth Lifeboats
- The crew of Dublin Port Tug Colliemore
- The crews of Irish and U.K. helicopter rescue teams
- The crews of all the boats that helped in the search and rescue
- Doctor Webb from Glasthule in Dún Laoghaire
- All the shore staff from the B&I line
- All the staff from the Dublin Port Pilot and radio stations
- All the staff from the Beaumont and Mater hospitals
- All the ambulance crews who worked tirelessly than night,
and everyone else involved I did not mention
Let us also remember Pat Keogh, Dave Harding and Desmond Hayes.
May they rest in peace.
Austin Gill, January 2012