Families learn of their loved ones' fates

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The Independent Online

The families of the 44 people who died in the sinking of the bulk carrier Derbyshire have learned for the first time what went wrong 20 years after the tragedy.

The families of the 44 people who died in the sinking of the bulk carrier Derbyshire have learned for the first time what went wrong 20 years after the tragedy.

The 160,000-tonne vessel, which was lost beneath 80ft waves in a Pacific Ocean typhoon off the coast of Japan, is Britain's biggest vessel to have been lost at sea.

Mr Justice Colman is to release findings of the second inquiry into the disaster at the High Court today, and so bring to an end two decades of controversy over the cause of the disaster.

The report is expected to refute an earlier investigation which blamed the crew for leaving a hatch open, causing water to flood in - a finding victims' families have always disputed.

The bodies of all 42 crew and two of their wives have never been recovered and an initial investigation was ruled out because there was "no wreck and no survivors".

One of the victims, 19-year-old able seaman Peter Lambert, from Liverpool, was due to be married on his return.

His brother, Paul Lambert, who is now chairman of the Derbyshire Family Association said: "No one has so far been allowed to grieve.

"We watched our loved ones go to work one day and they never came back, that is hard enough.

"But we were never allowed to bury them and 20 years on we still don't know the truth.

"We were told at first it was 'just one of those things'.

"The families always believed the truth had not been told and fought for so long to get a full inquiry."

It was only after the Derbyshire's sister ship, the Kowloon Bridge, went aground and broke up off Ireland in 1986 that a public inquiry was started.

In 1987 the report blamed the sinking on an act of God, concluding that the vessel was "probably overwhelmed by the forces of nature".

But concerns from relatives, trade unions and shipping experts about possible design faults led to a union-sponsored examination of the wreck in 1994.

The Government itself launched a £2.7 million investigation in 1998 and an assessors' report said water had been taken on board through an insecure hatch, pointing the finger at "bad seamanship".

Mr Lambert added: "We knew the crew wasn't to blame. They were experienced sailors, they knew what they were doing.

"What sailor would leave a hatch open in a typhoon? We fought on and on and finally were given the second inquiry we wanted."

The 48-year-old said this year's inquiry had been "very thorough" and called for all inquiries to be held in open court.

He added: "This will finally give all of us some piece of mind because we know the inquiry has been so thorough.

"We have so many disasters and scandals, and more often than not the inquiries are held behind closed doors.

"We want Mr Justice Colman to give recommendations to ensure something like this does not happen again and lives will be saved."

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