6th August 1964
A tomato ship and a tanker collided
Guernsey Coast, a motor-driven cargo ship, collided with Catcher, a Liberian steam-powered tanker, on 6 August 1964. The ships were just off the Normandy coast. One crew member was killed in the collision and the Guernsey Coast’s £23,000 tomato cargo was lost.
The Guernsey Coast was heading from St Peter Port to Shoreham with a crew of 10 and a cargo of almost 300 tons of tomatoes. Her course took her across the Catcher’s path, which was enroute from Antwerp in the Netherlands to San Juan in Puerto Rico.
The ships were sailing through the night and in poor weather. Visibility was mixed, but frequently hampered by fog. This was so thick it required the Guernsey Coast to use her fog horn right up until the point of collision, which happened at around 2.30 in the morning.
The moment of impact
The crew on the Guernsey Coast had spotted the Catcher on radar and adjusted their course to accommodate it. Nonetheless, the Chief Officer, who was on the side of the bridge closest to the Catcher, reported that she still seemed to be getting closer. Before any evasive manoeuvres could be taken, the Catcher’s lights were visible through the bridge windows. It was clearly less than 200 metres ahead.
The tomato ship turned hard to starboard (right), and then hard to port (left), but it was too late. The ships collided. The Catcher, which was more than 11 times the tonnage of the Guernsey Coast, pierced one of the Guernsey Coast’s three compartments. The Guernsey Coast immediately started to flood and tilt in the water.
The two boats were still connected, so the crew of the Guernsey Coast boarded the Catcher. The second engineer and the chief engineer were the last to head for the ladders leading up to the Catcher. They had been below deck stopping the engine. They reached them just as the Guernsey Coast keeled over fully.
The second engineer scrambled aboard. However, the chief engineer and the master, who had been waiting at the foot of the ladder, were thrown into the sea. The master was later saved, but the chief engineer was never seen again. It had taken only seven minutes from the point of impact for the Guernsey Coast to sink.
At a subsequent inquiry at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, the captain of the Guernsey Coast, John Healy, had his certificate suspended for twelve months for sailing his vessel at excessive speed given the conditions and not stopping in time when the fog horn of the Catcher became audible.