January 31st, 2013, marks the 60th Anniversary of the maritime disaster involving the ferry The Princess Victoria, with the loss of over 130 lives (according to reports.) There were 44 survivors (again according to reports) but there were no women and children among them, as wind and waves buffeted the lifeboat(s) carrying them to hoped-for safety.
The Princess Victoria, one of the early roll-on, roll-off car ferries, left Stranraer in Scotland, bound for Larne in Northern Ireland on 31st January, 1953. During the crossing, she was buffeted by heavy seas and severe gales which forced open the stern gates to the car deck and water flooded into the ship.
At 08.45 GMT, the Captain, James Ferguson, radioed the Coastguard to say the ferry was “not under command and needed a tug.”
At 12.52, he radioed to say the engine room was flooded and he had decided to give the order to abandon ship.
According to later messages sent, the ship was listing so badly that it was impossible to launch lifeboats.
The radio operator on the stricken ferry, David Broadfoot ,remained at his post and continued to send out messages for assistance until she sank. He was awarded the George Cross posthumously.
The Captain, James Ferguson, went down with his ship and was awarded the George Medal posthumously.
One of the ladies who perished was a Christian missionary called Nansy Bryson, from Castlerock in Northern Ireland who was a missionary in Kenya and was back home in Northern Ireland with her husband and three children visiting relatives. She had some meetings in Scotland and was returning to Northern Ireland on the Princess Victoria. She has been called “the heroine of the Princess Victoria” because she comforted other passengers and led them in the singing of a hymn.
The rescue attempt was hampered by confusion over the location of the Princess Victoria and because other distress operations were already under way because of the extreme weather conditions of the day. Among those that assisted in the rescue were,
RAF Hastings Aircraft
The Lt. Commander and Chief Petty Officer of HMS Contest were awarded the George Medal.
The Pass of Drumochter
These four were merchant ships, and the captains of each ship received the OBE.
The Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat and Lifeboats from Cloughey and Portpatrick.
The Princess Victoria disaster – a terrible tragedy, but also a poignant testimony to courage and selfless service and sacrifice.