August-September 2017 The Minister’s Memory
In Acts 27, Paul’s tale of woe of a hellish sea journey has a number of people who do not come out of the story well. Despite bad weather, unfit cargo and a ship’s company you wouldn’t want on a park lake never mind the sea, it all makes for terrifying reading. A number of people seemed to be at fault and their biggest error was not listening to Paul. No one died but if you were a victim you would probably seek answers and compensation. A lack of co-operation seemed to be the problem. Of course it’s all very different today, safe, trustworthy, collegiate and reliable. Well.......
It’s ten years since we heard the news of a container ship in trouble in the Channel, it was near Falmouth. It was January and the sea was a storm to raise eyebrows even on the shipping forecast. I then heard she was breaking up (she wasn’t quite so weak-willed as we soon discovered). The ship in question was the MSC Napoli.
The crew abandoned the ship and were out in lifeboats on the hellish water for several hours. There were rumours they left hoping she would sink as some suspected the vessel had been going too fast for the conditions. Thankfully they were all rescued but it was a dangerous operation and the helicopters had problems with the winches. The Napoli was fully fuelled, laden and had been heading for Portugal. Now adrift and open to salvage, she awaited her fate. There was no shortage of people to salvage her but no one wanted to give her house room. It later turned out she could have gone to Falmouth. They actually towed her to Portland and were heading back west when the weather changed.
The next we knew on the Saturday afternoon she was being treated to a three point turn with tugs in the bay – OUR BAY!! That saying ‘not in our back yard’ suddenly had resonance with those hoping to repel power plants or HS2. In our case no one was asking if we minded and there was no time to make banners. A World Heritage Site and she was leaking fuel and chemicals, we braced for an environmental disaster.
As we know, what followed didn’t improve the mood. The hotels filled with journalists and then George Alagiah said on BBC News ‘crates of BMW motorbikes are being washed up on the beach in ‘Branscombe Bay’. Well, non of us had heard that name before but it gave the world and their ‘partner’ a clue where to head with their trucks. Poor Branscombe was in chaos for days.
Some while later and having restored order, recovered a families possessions seen being looted on TV, and having got the oil and containers off the wreck, they announced they were going to calve her up here. They planned to split the front of the ship from the back. For a vessel ‘so damaged in the storm’ she proved to be made of strong stuff. We had tug of war with tugs, then explosions. But the Napoli kept her front to her back. Eventually they did get the ship in two and we had the bizarre spectacle of the front end being towed across the bay and off to Ireland. This was in July 2007
It was 2009 before we saw the last of the Napoli, and the anchor was given to Branscombe as a reminder of the sorry saga.
No one died (no human - birds and fish were not so lucky) in the whole operation and the public enquiry was not bristling with answers. A claim for salvage went in for £65 million pounds. However, under the Merchants Shipping Act 1995 vessel owners and insurers are entitled to limit their liability. In the case of the MSC Napoli the legal limitation fund was capped at £ 15 million. This was vastly under-estimated and resulted in losses for all parties concerned.
So who was to blame for all this chaos and the devastation that nearly happened in a World Heritage Site? The Crew; the Owners; the Salvage Teams (there were two); the Police, the Media. Well all had a role and not everyone came out of the matter with flying colours.
The actions of people, an inability to listen to advice and self interest play their part in both stories. All the years that passed in between and the problems came down to people rather than just the elements.
People ask why do things go wrong, well it’s usually the human factor. And the answer to that is God. He will guide, ask us to be patient and say are you sure or even prompt us to be brave. He is the answer for all of us, otherwise nothing changes. It applies to all situations on land, sea or sky. We need God for every aspect of our life and that never changes