‘Hope diminishing’ in capsized ship crew search

Four lifeboats and two helicopters are believed to have been called out. Picture: BBC Orkney

Four lifeboats and two helicopters are believed to have been called out. Picture: BBC Orkney

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A SEARCH for the crew of a capsized cargo ship in the Pentland Firth was stood down tonight as rescuers admitted “hope is diminishing.”

The cement carrier “Cemfjord” sank to the bottom of the North Sea on Sunday as efforts to find the missing eight seamen, seven Polish and a Filipino master, continued.

A spokesman for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said that investigators had been sent to the north coast of Scotland following the accident.

A major search was launched when the hull of the upturned ship was spotted between Orkney and the Scottish mainland on Saturday afternoon.

The Cemfjord had last been seen on Friday afternoon and is feared to have capsized in severe gale force winds and rough seas.

No Mayday or distress signal was made from the 83-metre vessel, which had been carrying 2,000 tonnes of cement from Denmark to England.

Rescuers involved in the search said they thought the crew may not have had time to escape from the ship before it capsized, and could still be on board.

Local coastguard teams from Orkney were yesterday transported by helicopter to two uninhabited islands in the Pentland Firth to look for debris.

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Four lifeboats were also involved in the search, but had all returned to their respective bases on Sunday afternoon.

A small inflatable tender was found badly damaged on the shoreline of South Ronaldsay, but there was no confirmation on whether it came form the Cemfjord.

However, marine experts said the life raft could have been dislodged by the storms and rough seas which are believed to have caused the tragedy.

The Royal Navy warship HMS Somerset and her helicopter also joined the second day of the operation.

Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) watch manager Susan Todd admitted the chances of finding survivors were very slim.

She added: “Obviously as time goes by hope is diminishing greatly.

“Sadly no sign has yet been found of the missing crew. Obviously our thoughts are with the families of those involved at this time.

“However we are making best use of daylight and reasonable weather conditions today and we will maintain the search effort through the hours of daylight, looking for people in the water or any signs of wreckage or debris from the vessel - liferafts, lifeboats, etc.”

Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Our thoughts are with the families of the missing crew at this difficult time.

“I would like to pay tribute to the work of the coastguard rescue teams from Kirkwall, St Margaret’s Hope, Duncansby, Scrabster and Wick involved in the search and rescue operation.

“Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government stand ready to assist if required.”

The vessel’s owner, Brise of Hamburg, issued a statement in the aftermath of the “severe accident”.

It stated: “No distress call was received from the vessel. Bad weather prevailed in the area at the time and conditions remain difficult at the scene, with storm force winds.

“The crew of seven [includes] seven Polish seafarers and one Filipino mariner. The company is in the process of informing the families.

“The upturned hull of what Cemfjord seen by a local ferry and, in response, Shetland Coastguard mounted a major search and rescue operation.”

Caitlin Ditchfield, a passenger on board the Hrossey ferry, said: “About two hours into the journey, the NorthLink ferry we were on strangely stopped in the middle of the sea.

“Then from the window we could see the hull of the cargo ship in the water.

“After a while the captain made an announcement that he had called the three closest coastguards but they had asked that the ferry conduct a search while the lifeboats made their way to us.

“The ferry started to circle the ship looking for any debris. We were at the scene for two-and-a-half hours before the coastguards said we could carry on with our journey.”

The Cemfjord was built in 1984 and was converted to a specialist cement carrier in 1998.

Brise of Hamburg said the ship had successfully completed its classification renewal inspections during December 2014.

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