HC Deb 20 November 1962 vol 667 cc1010-2
Mr. Blyton

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement about the disaster to the lifeboat at Seaham Harbour on 17th November.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

The Seaham Harbour lifeboat was launched with a crew of five at about 4.10 p.m. on 17th November to search for the fishing coble "Economy" which had been reported to Seaham coastguard as overdue. At about 4.55 p.m. the lifeboat reported, by radiotelephone, that she had found the missing coble, had taken off the five occupants, and was returning to harbour.

At about 5.15 p.m., the lifeboat capsized when 20 yards outside the entrance to Seaham Harbour, and was later washed inshore in a damaged condition. At the time a north-easterly gale—force 8 to 10—was blowing and there was a heavy confused sea and swell. It was overcast and there were sleet showers. The coastguard called the flank lifeboats from Hartlepool and Sunderland to search for survivors. Beach searches were also organised and aircraft assistance obtained to drop flares. One man from the fishing cable was washed up alive on the beach and is now in hospital. Seven bodies have so far been recovered and two are still missing. The search for these continues.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has begun an inquiry into the cause of this tragic accident and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that the House will wish me to express its deepest sympathy with the families of all the brave men who lost their lives.

Mr. Blyton

I should like to thank the Minister for his statement and to endorse the sympathy which he has extended to the families of those who have lost their lives in this disaster. Would the right hon. Gentleman use his offices to do everything he can to see that the needs of the dependants are met and that help is given to them as soon as possible?

Mr. Marples

Certainly, Sir, and I am glad to say that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution has already said and agreed that they will be paid pensions by the Insitution on the scale applicable to chief petty officers in the Royal Navy. I understand that the Institution has already sent a substantial cheque to start these pensions going. I am sure that the whole House will be very grateful to the Institution for such prompt action.

Mr. G. R. Howard

Whilst wishing to associate myself with the feeling of bereavement for all those who have lost their lives in this tragic case, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that by Sunday morning the Royal National Lifeboat Institution sent out a team of officials, led by the Deputy Chief Inspector, to carry out an immediate inquiry into what had caused this tragic accident?

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the Institution has already sent a sum of £500 to the dependants and that the pensions which, as he has said, will be paid to dependants on the scale of chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, will be paid irrespective of any other State benefit or any other pensions applicable to these unfortunate people?

Mr. Marples

I am sure that the whole House will agree that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution acted very speedily and very efficiently and, I think, in the circumstances, extremely generously.

Mr. Shinwell

May I, as a former Member for the area, associate myself with the expressions of sympathy?

Dr. Bennett

In the light of these and other such disasters in recent years, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will consider that it might be worth while instituting an inquiry into the question whether it would not be better to have self-righting lifeboats, as this one was not?

Mr. Marples

Before taking any further action in this case, we had better await the outcome of inquiries which are being made by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Back to