Sad pilgrimage of sea tragedy relatives

THREE years on from the sinking of the freighter Rema, with the loss of its four-man crew, families are still haunted by the need to know why their loved ones died.

Some of the bereaved relatives were today making a pilgrimage from West Yorkshire to Whitby on the anniversary of the tragedy, 20 miles out from the port.

Despite a 21-month investigation, no-one knows for sure why the Belize-registered freighter with its cargo of road stone plunged to the bottom of the North Sea in the early hours of April 25, 1998.

A report by the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch said a crack in the hull was the most likely explanation.

But the lack of a definite cause still causes heartache for those left behind.

Tracey Clayton, of Glass Houghton, Castleford, lost her boyfriend, the skipper Michael Clayton, 41, and her brother, Shaun Norton, 26, in the sinking.

Mr Clayton’s brother, Robert, 40, from Southampton, and Andrew James, 34, of Allerton Bywater, also drowned.

Said Tracey: “Every year it’s such a sad occasion when the anniversary comes around.

“We stay up at home and sit in silence until around 3.45am, which is around the time it happened.

“We always feel that something more should have been done by the Government.

“No-one knows to this day what happened and the investigation never found a crack in the hull.

“That was just a possibility and we feel they should have gone deeper into it and probably raised the ship to find out what happened.

“I don’t think any of the families are happy at all with what was done.”

Tracey, 33, added: “We can’t really grieve properly because it’s not like having a grave you can go to at a cemetery.

“We go to Whitby and throw flowers out to sea or we ask someone who is going out in a boat to take the flowers out there for us.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t register fully that they have died. It’s like they are still working away somewhere and could come back at any time.”

She said her mother, Connie Duggan, still finds it difficult to talk about Shaun, who was her only son.

The MAIB said the Rema shipped 800 tons of water and nose-dived to the seabed while transporting a load of stone chippings from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Netherlands.

The report said the 23-year-old vessel foundered, during fine weather and slight seas, after water entered its hold without any of the crew being aware of it.

The Rema transmitted a Mayday call at 3.21am, but by the time lifeboats and RAF helicopters arrived they found only floating items of debris and a small oil slick.

The families launched an appeal with the hope of raising the ship to investigate the cause of the sinking and to give the men a proper funeral, but the plan was abandoned after a series of fund-raising events made only 15,000.

mike.hurst@ypn.co.uk