Falmouth’s biggest shipwreck – 55 years ago this month (May 2014), as featured last week by David Barnicoat – also sparked a major pollution scare for the area, writes Mike Truscott.
With the Torrey Canyon disaster still eight years away, the Greek bulk carrier Mitera Marigo (9,200 gross tons) sank in Carrick Roads on May 30, 1959. Leaking fuel oil polluted the coastline and threatened the holiday industry.
With the salvage tug Englishman close by, the stricken vessel had limped into Falmouth harbour after a collision off Ushant, and the Packet reported: “The damage to her bows was so extensive that it looked as if they had been blown off by a mine.
“She was so low down at the bows that it seemed she would slip forward under the sea at any moment. Her bow was a mass of tangled steel. The hole in her bow appeared large enough for a double decker bus to be driven through.”
The Packet added: “The drama heightened around midnight, when local residents heard the maroons calling out the lifeboat. The many people who dashed out of their homes and looked across the harbour saw the light of the lifeboat and three harbour tugs making towards the Roads.
“It was noticeable that the lights of the Mitera Marigo – which up to then had been shining brilliantly – were beginning to fade into darkness.
“Within a short period, ‘abandon ship’ was sounded. When the ship’s complement of 30 officers and crew got away in their own boats, a few of the men were able to snatch up prized belongings.
Many, however, came ashore with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.”
A specialist Royal Navy team spent the weekend tackling leaking fuel oil. They used a new containment technique involving floating booms.
The Packet explained that that the oil had nonetheless polluted the coastline from St Mawes to Swanpool and was threatening the holiday season.
Oil on beaches and rocks had prevented swimming, with schools advised to suspend swimming classes, while at sea it had caused yacht races to be cancelled.
Mr H A J Silley, head of Falmouth Docks’ owners, said his firms had stepped in to do everything possible – with divers, tugs and separating plant - to combat the threat.
“We have undertaken this spontaneously in the interest of the town and surrounding waterfront. We don’t know if we shall be remunerated for what we are doing,” he added.
Happily, the Packet of June 12 was able to trumpet: “Falmouth Wins Battle Against Oil Menace.”
It quoted the Mayor, Alderman W E Cavill, as declaring it was now “quite safe to say that the threat to the beaches was conquered and the oil left in the ship was contained.”
For several years, the tops of the Mitera Marigo’s masts could be seen at low tide. By 1962, however, salvage experts Risdon Beazley had removed the bulk of the wreckage and cargo.