'Three killed' as historic ship sinks

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The Independent Online
One crew member died and two others were missing feared dead last night after the world's oldest operating wooden sailing ship, the Maria Asumpta, hit rocks and sank off the Camel estuary in north Cornwall.

The body of 50-year-old John Shannon was found. Hopes of finding the two missing people - Emily McFarlane and Ann Taylor - were "receding", Falmouth Coastguard said.

The ship, which was used as a training vessel, had been sailing from Swansea to Padstow. Mark Litchfield, the Kent-based owner of the Maria Asumpta, was among the remaining 11 crew members who were rescued.

"We did everything we could to claw her off the rocks but we couldn't. It looked as though we were going to make it and then there was a tremendous thud," he said last night. "Within minutes it broke up. The mast came tumbling down."

Mr Litchfield was co-owner of the 67-year-old wooden barque Marques, which sank north of Bermuda in June 1984 during a Tall Ships race with the loss of 19 lives. That ship, which went down in 45 seconds, was caught in a violent squall.

"It is just a tragedy than I happen to be the owner of two ships involved in disasters," he said. Falmouth Coastguard said last night that it was possible that the missing two members of the crew of the Maria Asumpta went down with the ship.

Six members of the 14-strong crew made it to shore and were winched to the top of cliffs by coastguards. Five others were taken on board a fishing vessel.

A rescue helicopter from the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose and three Cornish lifeboats were at the scene. Survivors were taken to Treliske hospital suffering from cold and shock. Two were said to be in a serious condition.

Steve Hudspith, 40, a lifeboatman from Port Isaac, saw the ship sink. "She was closer in than I expected," he said. "The wind was from the north and she had gone too far into Portquin Bay and was making very little headway. It was inevitable she would end up on the rocks." The vessel was "knocked one way then the other" in the swell and broke up in a few minutes. "There was just matchwood left," Mr Hudspith said.

The 137-year-old Spanish-built brig was originally operated on the transatlantic trade routes. Built in 1858 in Barcelona, she was classed as a brig, and traded across the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. She was restored 1980 and restored.

The vessel was to have been burnt at sea before being rescued by its operating company, Yale Fleet Ltd in Kent.

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