Channel Collision Kills 20
The Straits of Dover in peacetime is one of the most heavily trafficked stretches of water in the world, but with a good lookout and careful navigation it is also generally safe. In the early hours of the morning on November 17 1953, however, in spite of reasonable visibility and calm seas the French craft Perou steamed into the Italian ore carrier Vittoria Claudia, a 2750 ton vessel built in 1905, slamming into the stern of the antiquated vessel which sank within a matter of minutes. The Vittoria Claudia had been travelling far slower than the French boat, and her second officer having spotted the oncoming Perou had sounded the ship’s siren but to little effect.
The collision happened at roughly 4am, only two and a half miles off Dungeness. Three lifeboats – Dungeness, Hastings and Dover – were launched after the Perou contacted the French coastguard to raise the alarm, the French in turn contacting the English emergency services.
Large pieces of wreckage from the lost ship hampered the search and rescue efforts, the lifeboats and a pilot cutter already in the area having to travel slowly to avoid a further disaster. At 6am five men from the Vittoria Claudia were found clinging to floating debris – they had been forced to jump from the ship with no time to get their lifeboats into the water - and rushed to Dungeness then on to Folkestone hospital. They needed treatment for shock and after two hours in the icy November water hypothermia was a danger. Twenty of their shipmates had not been so lucky – the ship sank so rapidly that nobody below deck was able to escape.
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