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Photos may end wreck mystery

RELATIVES of the crew of the Derbyshire believe they are close to solving the mystery of Britain's biggest shipping loss.

A study on the feasibility of photographing the wreck of the 166,000 tonnes bulk carrier is being conducted. It is hoped the project would end 13 years of wrangling over whether the ship broke in two before sinking without trace off Japan with the loss of 44 lives.

Paul Lambert, whose brother Peter died on the Derbyshire at the age of 19, said computer modelling of oil which appeared when the ship vanished suggested that the two halves of the wreck were some 21 miles apart in 3,000 metres of water.

'We cannot bring the Derbyshire back or the people lost, but we can, in our own way, help to stop the future waste of lives. My mother still goes to pieces when she talks about it. The Derbyshire caused the death of two mothers who lost their only sons. They just couldn't take it,' he said.

A formal inquiry was held in 1989 - nine years after the loss - when the Kowloon Bridge, a sister ship, broke in two after running aground off Ireland. The Government had resisted an earlier campaign for an inquiry following the discovery of cracks in other sister ships.

The inquiry concluded that the Derbyshire was 'probably overwhelmed by the forces of nature'. Five sets of plans for the ships had disappeared before the inquiry.

'Every time we have a new shipping minister, it's always the same. No Derbyshire, no new inquiry,' said Mr Lambert, 41, a catering assistant at the Royal Hospital, Liverpool, until he was made redundant earlier this year.

The Derbyshire was four years old when she disappeared and was equipped with the latest marine satellite communications. She sank so quickly that the crew was unable to send a distress call.

Built as part of a series of six ships by Swan Hunter on Teesside and operated by Bibby Line, the Derbyshire was more than three football pitches long, which should have enabled it to withstand the severest weather.

Bulk carriers account for 40 per cent of ships lost in the past 20 years, with 2,400 seamen killed.

Ocean Technologies, an American company, has estimated the cost of filming the Derbyshire at dollars 800,000 (pounds 560,000).