Underwater probe set to investigate Cemfjord wreck

The probe is not searching for any bodies believed to be still on board. Picture: PA
The probe is not searching for any bodies believed to be still on board. Picture: PA
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AN UNDERWATER probe is to be carried out on the wreck of the capsized cargo ship Cemfjord which claimed the lives of its eight crew in the Pentlan Firth off Orkney.

A remotely-operated underwater vehicle (ROV) will be sent down by the Department of Transport’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) during a lull in the stormy weather.

However, the ROV is being sent down to investigate the outside of the 83-metre ship, which was carrying a cargo of cement when it capsized two weeks ago, in a bid to determine the cause of the tragedy.

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It is not searching for any bodies believed to be still on board.

A DoT spokesman said: “Inspectors from the MAIB will be embarking on the Northern Lighthouse Board vessel Pharos this weekend to take advantage of a forecast lull in the weather on Sunday and Monday to conduct a ROV survey of the wreck of the Cypriot registered cement carrier Cemfjord.

“The survey will be conducted using an ROV operated by salvage experts from the MoD’s Salvage and Marine Operations Project Team.”

The Cemfjord capsized at around 1pm on Friday 2 January while attempting to transit through the Pentland Firth.

“The upturned hull was discovered the following day by the ferry Hrossey, and the hull was tracked until it sank some 20 miles east of the Firth in 70 metres of water. No survivors were recovered, and all eight crew - seven Poles and one Filipino - are presumed to have perished.

“The MAIB has a number of objectives for the ROV survey that, if achieved, would help to answer key questions about why the vessel foundered so rapidly, why none of the crew survived, and why it took so long for the alarm to be raised.

“The wreck lies in an area of strong currents that are likely to hamper ROV operations and limit underwater visibility.

“The need to use an ROV capable of operating in such conditions means that it is too large to enter the wreck. No decision about any further investigation of the wreck will be made until the results of the ROV survey have been analysed.

A major search operation was launched on January 3 after the Cemfjord’s upturned hull was spotted by a ferry in the Pentland Firth.

The search was called off the next day after the Cypriot cement carrier sank below the waves with no sign of its crew.

An unused life raft from the Cemfjord was recovered 67 miles east of Stroma near Orkney on January 5.

Cemfjord owners Brise of Hamburg said they are considering the possibility of trying to recover the crew, but stressed no decision had yet been made.

A spokesman said the company was looking at the situation, but that a number of moral and technical decisions had to be taken into consideration.

He said any move to send divers in would be carefully assessed due to the significant risks of such a deep dive to the wreck.

A memorial service for the crew will be held in Wick this Saturday, with representatives from Brise expected to attend.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur added: “It will be some time before we learn what happened to the Cemfjord when it sank in heavy seas earlier this month.

“For now, however, it is welcome news that the vessel’s owners are seeking to retrieve the bodies of the eight crew members who so tragically lost their lives.

“Hopefully this will also provide some comfort to the families affected, at which must be an impossibly difficult time.”

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