1982 European Gateway Disaster
Adapted from an article by Steve Russell 19th December 2019 - Ipswich Star
On December 19, 1982, the people of Felixstowe were going about their Christmas preparations when an accident occurred which would affect the town for months and years to come.
The story that dominated the news for three months started in December 1982 when two ships collided about a mile off Felixstowe and the ferry MS European Gateway capsized and lay on a sandbar until a Dutch salvage company refloated the ship.
The Roll On Roll Off vehicle and passenger ferry, a Townsend Thoresen vessel, left Felixstowe on December 19, 1982 bound for mainland Europe in force 8-10 winds. About a mile out to sea, at 10.50pm, it collided with MV Speedlink Vanguard, a British Rail ferry heading towards Parkeston Quay, Harwich.
Holed in the collision, the European Gateway listed and capsized. She came to rest, on her side on a sandbank. The ship was carrying 34 passengers and had a complement of 36 crew.
A major rescue operation was mounted and less than 60 minutes later, nearly everyone on the European Gateway was accounted for. Some needed treatment for the effects of the cold, and were warmed in the sauna onboard a DFDS ferry.
Six men were missing. The bodies of five of those who died were recovered but one was lost at sea. Four of the dead (Albert Coburn, Pewel Burzik, Tony Mason, Joseph Topp) were crew members and the others (George Heath, Graham Welton) were lorry drivers.
Truckers Paul Clayden and Ivan Hardy were in a cabin when the alert sounded. In the dark, they headed for a ‘pinprick of light’. They found an engineer, who led them out through the ship. They waited with about 30 other passengers and crew until the captain of a Pilot risked his and the lives of his crew to manoeuvre to within inches of the sinking ship so they could cross to safety. ‘It was an amazing act of bravery,’ Paul said. ‘He couldn't have known whether the ship was going to turtle on top of him, but it was a good job he was there.’
The European Gateway was refloated the following year, and repaired.
In 1984, an inquiry laid the blame for the shipwreck on the captains of both vessels. Each was confused about which side to pass the other and both thought they were taking avoiding action.
That year, a memorial to the dead was unveiled on the cliff tops in Wolsey Gardens, Felixstowe. Former mayor Mike Deacon, who helped organise the memorial, said: ‘To see the hull of a ship lying on its side, knowing that people have died, is one of those things I will never forget.’
Those who lost their lives on MS European Gateway;
George Heath, Lorry Driver - 48, of Manchester
Graham Welton, Lorry Driver - 27, of East Halton, Lincolnshire
Able Seaman Albert Coburn - 49, of Whitehead, County Antrim
Able Seaman Pewel Burzik - 49, of Chiswick, West London
Third Engineer Tony Mason - 40, of Colchester
Motorman Joseph Topp - 50, of London