50 years ago this week the cargo ship MV Prosperity ran aground off the coast of Guernsey with the loss of 18 lives.
On the night of 16th/17th January 1974 the Cypriot vessel which was carrying a cargo of timber lost power during a storm and struck the Conchee Reef near Perelle. The vessel was holed below the waterline and the crew abandoned ship, tragically their lifeboat was overwhelmed and all eighteen crewmen died.
Neil Tucker, who had only joined the ambulance service a few months earlier, recalls hearing the radio messages in the control room. “I was on my first evening shift and I remember hearing the voices of crew say they were going to abandon ship. They said they were going around and around and didn’t know where they were. It wasn’t nice to listen to.”
On the morning of 17th January the Chief Ambulance Officer Reg Blanchford asked for two volunteers to be winched onto the wreck by helicopter to carry out a search and take photos for the investigation. Keith Fothergill and John Marshall who were part of the dive team stepped forward.
“We went straight to airport and were picked up by helicopter then we were lowered onto the deck. At the time it was a job just like any other emergency. The sea was still very rough and every time a wave came in the whole boat shuddered,” said Mr Fothergill.
Mr Marshall added “The weather was horrendous but we had trained for this type of incident. I remember having to climb over timbers and the front of the wheel house was smashed in. We found the cabin clock which was full of sea water and had stopped at quarter past one.”
The pair were also among the crew of the Ambulance and Rescue Inshore Rescue Boat, with Mick Peters and Colin Bartie, which was sent to the scene the following day.
Ken Brehaut was in the first ambulance tasked with retrieving the bodies from the coastline. “The weather conditions had been horrendous and the sound of the wind was awful,” he said. “After we retrieved the first body my job was to supervise the temporary mortuary which had been set up by the authorities and handover the bodies to the police.”
To mark the anniversary representatives from Guernsey’s Ambulance and Rescue Service and the St John charity attended a memorial ceremony at the Prosperity monument at the L’Eree headland. The event which is organised by the Guernsey Association of Royal Navy, Royal Marines & Merchant Navy is due to be attended by the family of one of the crewmen from the Prosperity. The service was conducted by Dean of Guernsey Tim Barker and the St John chaplain Adrian Datta.
During the moment of reflection when the crew of the Prosperity were remembered the congregation stood silently in the cold wintery shower and all that could be heard was the wind and the sound of the sea in the background.