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RESCUE OF THE ST CHAD CREW

by Brian  Bird

 

 

OTHELLO H389

 MARCH 30 1973

I was serving as 1st Mate on the Hull Fishery Support Vessel “Othello” during the last Icelandic cod war. I was on watch on the bridge in the early hours of March 3rd 1973, monitoring the radios, which was part of my duties. Someone was foolishly playing pop music on the VHF emergency channel 16, however, behind this noise we could hear someone trying to send a Mayday distress call. After clearing the channel and requesting all other ships to remain silent, we established that it was the Hull Trawler St Chad, that was in need of assistance. I instructed my watch mate John Lee to call the Captain, Neville Beavers, who appeared almost instantaneously on the bridge.

Othello’s crew were immediately put on full alert. We had learnt by this time via the VHF that the St Chad had run up on some rocks almost directly under Ritur Huk, a sheer 1500ft cliff face in Isafjordhur on the NW coast of Iceland. At the time all the British trawler fleet {approximately 60} where sheltering down Isafjordhur, from a force 11 storm, accompanied by blinding snow and very heavy icing conditions. I remember our Metrological Officer "John George", remarking, that the weather chart was one of the worst he'd ever seen.

 

Because of the St Chad’s close proximity to the cliffs, and hence the uncertainty of water depths around her, the relentless snow storms with visibility down to 20/30 meters, it was a difficult task to find her. The British tugs Lloydsman and Statesman were also sheltering from the storm at the time under Ritur Huk. These two vessels both made an intrepid effort to locate the St Chad. However, due to the fact both of the tugs were deep draughted, it made it impossible for them to get too close to the shoreline, as a result they were unsuccessful in their search.

After some discussion on the bridge of the Othello we decided to try and locate the vessel. We informed the rest of the vessels of our intentions. A Grimsby vessel, Skippered by Roy Kearns suggested to all the other vessels in the vicinity that they did not move their engines whilst we were underway. In view of the poor visibility this suggestion proved invaluable, knowing all the vessels in the vicinity were stationary .

We Located the St Chad with little difficulty, our searchlight picking her out during a fortunate respite in the snow. We planned to effect the rescue using the small Zodiac powered by a small engine we carried as part of our equipment.. The Zodiac was crewed by one Deckhand {Tommy Foot} and myself. When the Othello was as close as she could possibly go, the zodiac was launched with Tom in the bow and myself in the stern. we headed off in the direction we thought was correct, Tom keeping the Othello directly astern and me steering with help from the Othello’s bridge by VHF radio towards the St Chad. Just as we lost sight of the Othello in the snow, the St Chad, much to our relief appeared ahead. On our approach it appeared as if the St Chad had been physically lifted up and put inside a pool with rocks everywhere, so close together we had to be cautious even in a zodiac. I reported our progress to Captain Beavers and went alongside the St Chad.

We took 7 of the crew into the zodiac and proceeded back to Othello, putting them aboard her. We repeated this twice more until all the crew were safely off the St Chad, and into the safe hands of our wonderful Glaswegian ships doctor, Andrew McClaren, a man of 70 years or more, who directed the crew of the Othello in the care of the survivors, treating them for shock and hypothermia. It is interesting to note that Andrew had been offered two jobs as ships doctor, the Othello and a passenger vessel the "Black Watch". We never learnt why he chose the Othello, but we were very pleased he did. I remember one member of the rescued crew, Clive Finn, on coming aboard the Othello, looking up to the bridge and saying to the Skipper "that's the first time I've ever been pleased to see you , you bastard".

Whilst we were busy in the Zodiac we learnt the Tug Lloydsman had found the Othello and had put a boat in the water to assist with the rescue. however, the boat never found the St Chad. We then had to help search for the Lloydsman's boat, they found it themselves with little trouble.

The Captain liased with the Icelandic authorities ashore and arranged for the survivors to be landed in the township of Isafjordhur and repatriated to the UK {with the exception of the Skipper "Bill McHastie"}, we had been advised that the Skipper would be arrested on coming ashore for illegal fishing. Skipper Hastie was transferred to a Fleetwood Trawler that was homeward bound

The following day the weather, having fined dramatically, our Chief Engineer, Des Greenwood, and myself were sent to ascertain the damage to the St Chad and to retrieve the Admiralty code books used to keep information away from the Icelandic gunboats, not very successfully it would seem. On boarding the stricken vessel it was observed by the footprints in the fresh snow that the local vultures had beaten us to it. They had taken radios etc and anything of value they could easily carry, but not the code books (maybe they had lots of copies of their own). We discovered the holds and engine room were completed flooded, and concluded, in our estimation the vessel was a total loss. When we left we inflated all her life rafts and a Zodiac, we took the ships bell, the bridge clock and a plaque of St Christopher. We towed the rafts and zodiac back to Othello.

By this time the weather had moderated and it was back to Patrols with the British Fleet..

I was allowed to keep the St Christopher Plaque, and the Skipper the Bridge clock as momento`s, what happened to the Ships Bell I have no idea, but I suspect that someone from the BOT, as it was then known, would have a fair idea.


Brian Bird

 

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