Poignant tributes were paid at the 67th anniversary of the MV Princess Victoria ferry disaster in Larne this morning.
Relatives, elected members and community representatives gathered for a memorial service in the Chaine Memorial Road area of the town at 11am.
Addressing those in attendance, Rev Paul Reid said: “This was then the worst maritime disaster in United Kingdom waters since World War Two. MV Princess Victoria was the first purpose built ferry of her kind to operate in British coastal waters on the route from Stranraer to Larne.
“On January 31 1953 she left Stranraer pier with 128 passengers and 51 crew on board at 7.45am. A gale warning was in place, but the decision was made to put to sea.
“Shortly after leaving the mouth of Loch Ryan, the ship turned west towards Larne. This exposed her stern to the worst of the high seas and winds.”
Rev Reid added: “Huge waves damaged the low stern doors allowing water to enter the deck. The crew struggled to close the doors, but to no avail. They were too badly damaged.
“Captain Ferguson decided to retreat to the safety of Loch Ryan, but this proved impossible due to the conditions.
“The captain was left with no option but to try and reach Northern Ireland. At 1.40pm passengers were ordered to the deck, preparing to abandon ship. Fishing trawler Eastcoates and cattle ship Lairdsmoore and the oil tanker Pass of Drumochter, were unable to rescue survivors even though they arrived ahead of the lifeboats.
“This was due to the high waves and wind and the danger of dashing smaller boats against the sides of the larger ships.
“All they could do was provide shelter until Donaghadee Lifeboat arrived. There were 44 survivors. Sadly there were no women and children. Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Maynard Sinclair and MP for North Down, Sir Walter Smiles were among the lost.”
Members of the late Sir Walter Smiles, who was a Member of Parliament at Westminster in 1945, laid a wreath at the MV Princess Victoria Memorial service.
Sir Walter Smiles is the great grandfather of famous adventurer, Bear Grylls. He was one of 135 people who perished in the ferry disaster in 1957. Lady Sarah Grylls (Sally), who is the mother of Bear, and granddaughter of Sir Walter Smiles, Bear’s sister Lara Fawcett and his nephew, Bevan Fawcett, all attended the service.
Thanking everyone for their support, Lady Sally said: “It is a huge privilege to be here. We are overwhelmed by the love and affection we have received.
“I was 11 years old when the disaster occurred and I can remember it as if it was yesterday. It had a traumatic impact on many families.
“It was a miracle that anyone survived. There was such courage from those on the lifeboats. The RNLI do an amazing job and we have such respect for them. We remember them with great thanks. Thank you to the local community for their hospitality.”
Speaking to the this paper, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Maureen Morrow said: “It is very important that we gather to remember the people of Larne and the surrounding areas who perished in the disaster. There were so many families affected, both here and further afield. I hope that tragedies like this are not repeated.”
Her party colleague, East Antrim UUP MLA, Roy Beggs, said: “It is right that the people who perished are remembered. We should also remember the dangers that exist at sea.
“There are fewer and fewer people alive today who remember the disaster. It is good to see younger generations coming to pay their respects today and to keep alive the memory of those who were lost.”
Alliance Larne Lough representative, Cllr Danny Donnelly, said: “This is a big part of Larne’s history and should be remembered. This is my first time attending the memorial service as a councillor and it was a very moving and poignant commemoration ceremony.”
Wreaths were laid by representatives including Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for County Antrim, Mr David William McCorkell, Cllr Morrow, Larne Princess Victoria Lodge 5050, the Port of Larne, Merchant and Royal Navy Association and relatives.
Dessie Stewart from the Portrush Boat Owners’ Association, laid a wreath at the service and hoped to attend the event annually.