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Rn Cutter, Invergordon (Accident)

Volume 466: debated on Tuesday 21 June 1949

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(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a statement with regard to the loss of one midshipman, three ratings and the cutter of H.M.S. "Theseus" on 6th June.

Full information is not yet available but from preliminary reports the following appears to have been the sequence of events: At about half-past two on the afternoon of 6th June, a cutter went inshore from H.M.S. "Theseus" with instructions to return to the ship. The wind was then strong and the sea moderate. The boat was delayed and did not return until about 4.30, by which time the wind had increased to gale force. The cutter could neither be hoisted owing to the sea alongside, nor moored safely astern. As the boat appeared to ride comfortably into the sea, she was sent to Invergordon for shelter. She made good progress until about half a mile from Invergordon, when, from the survivor's account, an exceptionally heavy wave swamped the fore compartment. After making distress signals the crew, wearing cork lifebelts, abandoned the boat and swam towards the north shore.

One midshipman and three ratings lost their lives in this unfortunate accident and one rating survived.

A Board of Inquiry has been convened and until its report has been received and considered by my noble Friend, I am not in a position to make any further comment as to the cause of the accident. I am sure the House will join me in expressing sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how far the cutter had to go from H.M. "Theseus" back to Invergordon, and upon whose authority the decision was made not to hoist her but to send her into Invergordon in the prevailing weather conditions?

It was one and a half miles from where the ship was moored to the pier. In answer to the second part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question, the authority is naturally that of the captain.

Surely it was not right for a young boy of 18 to be in charge of a boat of that kind in a rather long passage in such stormy conditions?

I would rather not get involved in any controversy until the Board of Inquiry has reported, but I must say that ships are frequently in control of midshipmen. This was by no means the first time that such ships have gone out. Accidents have been few and far between.

Has it not been the custom for many years for midshipmen to be in charge of cutters, and is not a midshipman of 18 quite capable of carrying out his duties in a cutter?

As, unfortunately, this is not the first occasion within recent months that such a tragedy has occurred would the right hon. Gentleman make a statement when a full report has been received, and take every possible action to prevent a recurrence?