Cameras to study wreck of ship: Funding given for sea-bed investigation

ONE of the great sea mysteries of modern times has moved a step closer to being solved.

Families who have campaigned for years for the wreck of the MV Derbyshire to be examined, have received pounds 50,000 from the International Transport Workers' Federation for a feasibility study to go ahead.

The Derbyshire, a 166,000-ton oil-bulk ore carrier, sank in a typhoon off the coast of Japan in 1980, with the loss of 44 lives. Families of those who died in the tragedy believe the vessel broke in two before she hit the ocean floor and is lying in two halves, 21 miles apart, in 3,000 metres of water.

Over the next two weeks, remote-controlled cameras will venture to the sea-bed to film fractured sections of the Derbyshire's sister ship, Kowloon Bridge, which split in two after running aground off the coast of Ireland. If the picture quality is deemed good enough by the ITF's executive board, members of the Derbyshire Families Association hope the organisation will grant the remainder of the pounds 810,000 costs of the expedition.

An inquiry in 1989 investigating the break-up of the Kowloon Bridge, concluded that an 'act of God', rather than a design fault, was responsible for the Derbyshire's break-up.

But if families can prove structural faults led to the tragedy, it could pave the way for compensation claims totalling an estimated pounds 80m.

Ocean Technologies, the American-based company employed to carry out the expedition work, is confident the amount of information it has received about the wreck will enable it to prove how she sank once and for all.

Captain David Ramwell, who co-authored the book A Ship Too Far about the Derbyshire's disappearance, believes a giant girder, acting as the ship's 'spine', was made in two halves by the manufacturers, weakening it and leading to cracks developing in the hull.

A member of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union has travelled to Japan to study coastguards' records in order to track down the wreck's location. If the feasibility study proves successful, campaigners hope expedition work will begin at the beginning of next year.