Whiddy Island Disaster Remembered 40 years on

Commemoration events to mark the 40th anniversary of the tragic Whiddy Island disaster, which took the lives of 51 people, took place today in Bantry, Co. Cork.

Whiddy Island Disaster Bantry Cork Oil Tanker Betelgeuse

Oil tanker Betelgeuse caught fire in Whiddy Island, Co. Cork

50 people died in the early hours of 8th January 1979 when the 120,000-tonne French-owned oil tanker Betelgeuse caught fire and exploded while unloading its 110,000-tonne cargo of crude oil at an offshore jetty at Whiddy Island off Bantry Bay.

The entire crew lost their lives in the fire, as well as seven Irish and one Englishman. Around 12 hours later the tanker sank, extinguishing much of the fire. For nearly two weeks after the explosion clouds of gas surrounding the wreck made it impossible for rescue workers to approach the site. A number of bodies were never recovered and during the salvage operation, a Dutch diver also lost his life taking the toll to 51 souls lost.

A memorial mass was held at St Finbarr’s church in Bantry Bay this afternoon followed by a wreath-laying ceremony. Another wreath-laying ceremony took place at the sea close by the jetty near where the tragedy occurred.

Whiddy Island Disaster Bantry Cork Oil Tanker Betelgeuse

Memorial in Cork (Credit Raidió na Gaeltachta)

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Daniel Farrell
Interested in all things on the Irish coast and sharing the best of it. // Email: Daniel@coastmonkey.ie // Follow on Twitter: @DanielsSeaViews