Mitera Marigo

Mitera Marigo

The Mitera Marigo is actually Falmouth's biggest shipwreck and not one that many people know about.

On May 29th 1959 at 0200 hours the Mitera Marigo was in dense fog 15 miles north of Ushant, France when she was in a collision with another vessel, a German freighter the Fritz Thyssen where both ships were badly damaged however no casualties were reported.

Mitera Marigo had a Greek master, Captain George Lemos who decided at the time to carry on her initial course towards Rotterdam but soon altered her course to head for Falmouth. The United Towing Company's salvage tug Englishman under the command of Captain Bill Hopper left Falmouth to intercept Mitera Marigo in mid Channel. When they spotted the ship Hopper said that he was shocked as to the extent of the damage to the bow (as can be seen in the photograph above). They offered any services that the master wanted to take under a Lloyd's salvage agreement or escort the ship to it's destination of Rotterdam however Captain Lemos refused all help which was a crucial decision that later played an important part in a court case.

Just after 1900 hours, the same evening, the then badly damaged Mitera Marigo passed St Anthony's lighthouse bound for the crossroads mooring buoy. At this stage Hopper was still offering help of powerful salvage pumps although Captain Lemos was still refusing any support. 2 hours later Lemos was now in panic and decided he wanted help as the condition of his ship was in cause of alarm. He shouted to the tug alongside "Pump, pump, pump. Lloyd's Open Form salvage."

The harbour master went afloat to assess the situation, saw the stricken vessel and advised Captain Lemos that his ship was sinking and that it should be beached on near to the Northbank buoy. At 2345 hours the ship started to sink at the bows and the order to Abandon Ship was given.

In November 1966 at the Admiralty Division of the High Court Mr Justice Karminski assisted by  two Elder Brethren of Trinity House acting as nautical assessors  heard the case between the owners of both ships in order to apportion blame. Although the liability for the collision was settled on a 50-50 basis the main thrust of the hearing centred around the cause of the Mitera Marigo sinking. Making his judgement Mr Justice Karminski said: “the sinking of the Mitera Marigo was not a direct result of the collision with the Fritz Thyssen.”.

At the Court of Appeal in June 1967 Lord Justice Willmer sitting with Lord Justice Russell and Lord Justice Salmon heard the Appeal. His Lordship said: “ My view is that this was a ship which was throughout in a situation of the utmost peril. It really does seem almost incredible that a competent master would not have availed himself of the assistance which was available.”. “This master took a wholly unjustified and therefore negligent risk when he refused the Englishman’s offer of assistance.” said his Lordship. “It is to that act of negligence that the loss of the ship and her cargo must be attributed.”

Falmouth Harbour Commissioners awarded Risdon Beazley, of Southampton the £320,000 contract to remove the wreck which was completed in October 1962.

*Information and pictures courtesy of David Barnicoat.

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