Tributes paid to crew of Portsmouth Wilhelmina J trawler on 25th anniversary of English Channel tragedy

IT was a maritime tragedy that claimed the lives of six young fishermen.

Sunday, 10th April 2016, 6:15 pm
Updated Sunday, 10th April 2016, 6:17 pm
From left, Cheryl Gray, Andrew Johnson and Bob Gray, place flowers on the plaque remembering those who died aboard the Wilhelmina J, which sank 25 years ago Picture: Allan Hutchings (060511-984)

But the memory of the crew that died when the Wilhelmina J trawler sank in the English Channel in 1991 lives on to this day.

Yesterday, friends and family gathered at the Camber in Old Portsmouth to pay their respects and lay a wreath to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

Wilhelmina J, a 26m beam trawler owned by Johnsons Enterprise’s, left Portsmouth on April 9, 1991, to trawl for scallops in the English Channel near fishing grounds known as Horseshoe Bank.

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But at 2am on April 10, the vessel was involved in a collision during foggy conditions with MV Zulfikar, a 142m Cyprus-registered cargo ship.

All six members of the Portsmouth boat died and the wreckage was pulled from the seabed in July of that year before being returned.

Tony Anscombe, 57, of Emsworth, took time to reflect at the Wilhelmina J memorial, near Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup headquarters.

Mr Anscombe was friends with Matthew Hodge, 21, who died in the sinking. The pair worked together at The Crown in Emsworth.

Mr Anscombe said: ‘It’s important we continue to remember what happened.

‘I’m from Emsworth and it’s a fishing village. I have come down every year since it happened.’

Talking about what happened, Mr Anscombe said: ‘I was upset. I just couldn’t believe it.’

Andrew Johnson, owner of Johnsons Enterprise’s, laid a wreath on the quay the boat’s original name board.

He said: ‘That was the first boat I skippered for the company, I then moved on to the bigger trawlers and the boat went into the hands of younger skippers we had at the time.

‘We’ve got to remember these guys were out there just going about their job, but then a tragedy happened.

‘We’re never going to forget that.’ A 1992 investigation into what happened said the most likely cause of the collision was “a failure by Zulfikar and a possible failure by Wilhelmina J to obtain early radar warning of the risk of collision and take avoiding action”.

The six men who died were; Jeff Venters, Michael Bell, Mark Fitz, Christopher Thomas, Guy Davies and Matthew Hodge. Their names are on a brass plaque.