§ Mr. Tebbit:
The "Derbyshire", a combination ore/bulk/oil carrier of 91,655 gross tons owned by the Bibby Line of Liverpool, was carrying a cargo of approximately 150,000 tons of iron ore from Seven Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Kawasaki in Japan, where she was expected to arrive on Sunday 14 September. The vessel carried a crew of 42 plus two wives.
The master of the "Derbyshire" made routine reports on 6 and 8 September: the last reported contact was at 0930 GMT on 9 September when the vessel was hove to in a severe tropical storm. We estimate her position at that time to have been some 650 miles SW of Kawasaki.
The "Derbyshire" would normally have been expected to report again on Saturday 13 September giving an amended estimated time of arrival at Kawasaki. When this did not occur unsuccessful efforts were made to establish radio contact with the vessel and on Sunday 14 September the owners, through their Agents in Japan, alerted the Japanese authorities and requested their assistance.
The Japanese maritime safety agency commenced a full-scale sea and air search on Monday 15 September and, apart from a forced suspension due to severe weather conditions, the search continued until dusk on Saturday 20 September when it was finally abandoned. Patrols continued in the area until 22 September when it was reluctantly accepted that the vessel and all on board must be presumed lost at sea.52W
My Department has commenced a preliminary inquiry under section 465 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, in an endeavour to establish the possible cause of the casualty. This will be completed as soon as possible and I will consider, in the light of the preliminary inquiry report, what further action is necessary.
On 22 October, my Department carried out an inquiry under the provisions of section 61 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 to establish the cause of the deaths. The findings of this inquiry were that on or after 09.30 hours GMT on 9 September 1980 the 44 persons aboard the "Derbyshire" were lost at sea believed killed or drowned.
On 24 October my Department was informed that a Japanese vessel had reported sighting a drifting empty lifeboat marked "Derbyshire Liverpool". Immediate action has been taken to confirm this report and if at all possible to recover the lifeboat for examination.
I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the families and relatives of those who have lost their lives, and also to the Bibby Line, at this tragic casualty.