Michael Kingston: 40th Anniversary of the Whiddy Island Disaster

Dear friends from near and far, from days of old, and of recent times.

I write as the 40th Anniversary of the Whiddy Island (M V Betelgeuse) Disaster approaches on 08th January 2019 in Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland. My father died in the Disaster.

Christmas is a hard time for seafarers and our rescue services that protect them, and their families. I ask that you please take 5 minutes to read this message.

The Betelgeuse Disaster is the leading example of the failure to implement regulation as it was the Cornerstone of the IMO – SOLAS1974 –  that was lying on Government shelves so it is hugely important as the Disaster is a stark reminder of what happens if we do not act. It is also one of the saddest stories of a tragedy at this time of the year, and in any event, where so many people died far from home.

At this exact time 40 years ago the crew of the MV Betelgeuse were on their way, in tough conditions, from the Arabian Gulf with a large cargo of crude oil. Unfortunately, despite bravely battling the elements, upon arrival in Bantry Bay everything went wrong – on the ship, and at the Whiddy Island Oil  Terminal and the entire crew of 42 French nationals, 7 local Irish nationals, and an English surveyor, who had only just boarded the vessel, tragically died. Sadly too a Dutch diver lost his life in the Removal of Wreck Operation, performed by Smit Tak, the most complex at that time in history. 51 people in total perished. All safety systems failed.

If you have time look at this video. (it is only 25minutes) from last year on Ireland’s National broadcasting network RTE.

However, despite this tragedy, much good has come out of the terrible disaster and the regulation to prevent explosions that had been agreed years earlier (SOLAS 1974) was implemented throughout the world. And further work has taken place which is explained in my below email, and attached letter to the Confederation of European Shipmasters Associations, who are attending, as are the International Chamber of Shipping, Ireland’s Maritime Institutions, Ireland’s Rescue Services including Irish Coastguard and several RNLI Station Representatives, RNLI HQ, and many others, including Company, NGO, and  State representatives from across the world. The families take great solace in these positive developments in best practice and regulatory implementation, and in highlighting the importance of these issues and of our rescue services on 08th January, in a positive celebration of these brave people who sacrificed so much which influenced safety for thousands of others. A talk given recently in Vladivostok is attached which explains some of the recent regulatory developments.

The message from this Commemoration is simple:

use best practice, implement regulation, to protect our seafarers and protect our environment so as not to have our precious emergency services unnecessarily called out.

As you know, in varying ways, we have worked closely together over the past number of years, be it in the sporting arena helping our youth, in the arena of friendship helping with British- Irish relations to underpin a sacrosanct friendship between close neighbours, and working together with friends further afield across the world, in the business world helping to promote better standards to protect and promote our industries, and in the international regulatory world. At all times our work in these areas has been built on the keystone of local and world society – having faith in the humanity of those around us. We have as a result of that approach achieved a lot together that we can be proud of.

I write to you today to ask of you this: to try and make an effort to come to Bantry on 08th January for 1100 Mass and/ or make a donation to one of the charities listed below – just a small one to help our cherished seafarers and our cherished rescue services, the Angels on the Horizon in our time of need.

One of our family members during our life will in some shape manner of form have to rely on our rescue services, and we all rely on our seafarers who are out there as we enjoy our Christmas period. Although my father died our rescue services did the best they could in atrocious circumstances, and my family & I will be eternally grateful for those efforts, including helping to find my father’s body 8 months after the Disaster so we had a grave to visit.

Friends of Bantry General Hospital.

Bantry Hospital and its staff had a huge burden to deal with on the night of the Disaster and afterwards as the bodies that were recovered were taken there. The hospital relies on voluntary donations to support its wonderful services to the community. As we enjoy Christmas I do not have to explain to you how hard our hospital staff are working.

Bank:  Allied Irish Banks plc, Bantry, Co. Cork. 

Name:  The Friends Of Bantry General Hospital Ltd. 

IBAN:  IE49 AIBK 9360 1404 5000 53


The RNLI, the Angels on the Horizon, then and now. Here is the link.

The international Seafarer Organisations that do so much good.

Mission to Seafarers

Seafarers UK

Apostleship of the Sea.

You will have your own organisations of choice close to you too. If you can make a donation please use reference ‘Betelgeuse’ and also let me know if you so wish so I can relay it to the families.

Thank you and hopefully  you can come to Bantry on 08th January for Mass at 1100 to acknowledge the lives that were lost and the importance of best practice and regulatory implementation, and to show  respect for our seafarers and rescue services. An important safety award is being presented to a National Maritime College of Ireland Cadet.

If your organisation would like to have a Wreath placed at the Monument please let me know.

I have included my family’s Christmas card for this year remembering those who died, which shows the backdrop of Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay. Terrible tragedy should not happen amidst such beauty, or anywhere else, and it is within our control to make sure it does not. We have worked very hard to try and achieve that goal in recent years.

I am happy for you to circulate this email with my contact details within your organisations and further afield (including at this time to family members and friends) to relay these important messages as a reminder and education of how important it is to act in time and respect our rescue services and seafarers.

As I say below the world can be a wonderful place all around us- if that is what we want it to be, if we turn negativity into positivity,  learning from the lessons of history.

As the great Irish politician, Edmund Burke, famously said Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them”

Best wishes and have a wonderful and safe Christmas and New Year

Together we will always make a difference.

Ní neart go cur le chéile

Michael Kingston