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Tristan da Cunha disaster recalled as Queen honours captain

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The master of Tristan da Cunha’s fisheries vessel has told how he was caught up in the MS Oliva shipwreck disaster – after his efforts was recognised by the Queen.

MS Olva broke up on rocks
MS Olva broke up on rocks

Captain Clarence October could see the cargo ship’s lights when it ran aground on Nightingale island on 16 March 2011.

He and his crew aboard the MV Edinburgh were instrumental in saving seamen from the Oliva. Then they turned their energies to the resulting mission to ferry 3,500 oil-covered penguins to Tristan – where most died, despite a three-month rescue operation.

The Queen has now awarded the Trinidad-born captain an honourary MBE for his services to the people of Tristan.

In an interview with The Cape Times, conducted over ship’s radio, Captain October said: “Me and my crew just did want any other decent crew would have done.

“We called the vessel from around 5am to 7am, but there was no response. Then at 7.10am they told us they had run aground.”

Zodiacs were used to take off crewmen
Zodiacs were used to take off crewmen

Captain October steamed to the scene and lowered his small lobster boats to help get the first of the crew off the Oliva. Some stayed aboard – but when the vessel started to break up, it was no longer possible for the Edinburgh’s boats to take them off.

“That first day the captain didn’t want to leave the vessel. He thought he could get it off. The next day the wind got up and the vessel swung around and started to break up.

“But because she had swung around there was no leeway to get in and pick the crew up.

“Then we got a one-hour window the next day and we went in and got them off. It was also thanks to a passenger ship that came to help. They had zodiacs that we needed.”

Islanders and conservations cleaned and fed rescued penguins
Islanders and conservations cleaned and fed rescued penguins

Sean Burns, Tristan’s administrator, said: “It was MV Edinburgh that first learned that the MS Oliva had run aground at Nightingale in the early hours of 16 March 2011. Clarence and his crew were first on the scene and provided valuable assistance.

“An environmental disaster unfolded as 1,600 tonnes of fuel and 65,000 tonnes of soya beans polluted the waters threatening wildlife around Inaccessible (a World Heritage site) and Nightingale.

“MV Edinburgh quickly transformed from a working fishing boat to a platform for volunteers to rescue the 3,500 penguins and transport them to Tristan for rehabilitation.

“The hours were long, the circumstances challenging, but Clarence showed excellent judgement and sound leadership throughout.

“The island would not have been able to respond to this disaster without the help of Clarence and his crew.”

The Edinburgh is the island’s main supply line, visiting six times a year to bring passengers and cargo, and to fish for lobster off the islands of Gough, Inaccessible and Nightingale. Captain October has served on the ship since 1997, initially as first mate.

“Clarence is deeply respected by the Tristan community and has built up a close relationship with many islanders over the years,” said Mr Burns.

“We are all delighted that his contribution has been recognised by Her Majesty.”

Revealed: blunders that caused Tristan da Cunha wreck disaster
Penguin rescue

MS Oliva impact page – Tristan da Cunha website

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