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Service marks 30 years since the Marchioness sinking

20 August 2019


The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, throws petals into the Thames on Monday night

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, throws petals into the Thames on Monday night

HORNS sounded by boats on the River Thames marked the end of a moment of silence for the 51 victims of the Marchioness disaster, at a commemorative service at Southwark Cathedral on Tuesday.

It is 30 years since the pleasure boat took just 30 seconds to sink in the early hours of 20 August 1989, after colliding with a dredger, the Bowbelle.

Among the survivors was Diogo Vasconcellos, who lost two brothers in the disaster: Domingos and Antonio, for whose 26th-birthday celebrations the boat had been hired.

During the choral eucharist in Southwark Cathedral, Mr Vasconcellos observed that it was “not easy to share grief. . .

“Many of us chose different paths when it came to how to deal with our loss,” he said. He had sometimes felt apprehension at events at which survivors and the bereaved were brought together: “I am never quite sure about what others might be feeling. . .

“There should be no hierarchies in grief. Sorrow is immeasurable. . . I am not sure what the framework for healing is, but accepting how difficult it is, not only for ourselves but for also for each other, is surely part of it.”

The first reading in the service, from Lamentations (“My soul is bereft of peace”), was read by Linda Ali, a lay canon of York Minster whose daughter, Julie, died in the disaster. The Gospel was from St Mark’s account of the crucifixion and resurrection.

In his homily, Canon Michael Rawson, Sub-Dean and Canon Pastor at Southwark, took as his text the verse from Song of Songs inscribed on the Marchioness memorial set in the floor of the cathedral: “Many waters cannot quench love.” He paid tribute to the “long and difficult struggle of recovery. . .

“When a loved one is snatched from us, or we ourselves experience extreme trauma, it can feel like life as we know it has come to a standstill. . . The wounds of grief and trauma can begin to heal over time, and yet the scars remain, and the pain can return afresh in anniversaries like today.”

He referred to the East window above him, in which Christ was depicted in his full glory, yet “the wounds of love” were still clearly visible.

“In the midst of pain and darkness, we are offered hope: hope that many waters cannot quench love. Christians believe that it is love that has the last word in our lives, and not death.”

He prayed that God would “continue to journey on your side, bringing you hope, bringing you healing, sharing your pain and wiping away every tear from your eyes”.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who presided, spoke of the vigil of prayer held on Monday evening, which had begun at the memorial at the cathedral and moved to the riverfront between Cannon Street and Southwark bridges, where the Marchioness had sunk. Petals had been scattered and prayers said, and there were tributes by representatives of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the river police, fire and rescue services, and the Port of London Authority.

Boats from these organisations sounded their horns to end the silence that followed the reading out of the names of all 51 people who had died — a task that fell to a survivor, Odette Penwarden. Before the communion, the congregation sang “Jesu, Lover of my soul”. After the blessing, the choir sang from Mozart’s Requiem (“Lacrymosa dies illa . . .”).

Eleven years after the disaster, an inquiry concluded that the cause of the collision was a poor lookout on both vessels. At a service to mark the tenth anniversary, the then Chancellor of Southwark Cathedral, Canon Jeffrey John, observed: “Wounds can only ever close or heal when they are first confronted and cleansed. Love does owe the truth to those who have died.”

Among the changes implemented after the disaster was the introduction of four lifeboat stations on the Thames.

In an interview with the Telegraph on Tuesday, Andrew Sutton, a survivor, described a lack of public sympathy at the time: “We were demonised by the media. It was our fault, they said. . . Some new regulations came about, but in terms of real justice? Nothing.

“Fifty-one people died in central London, it’s outrageous. It’s still outrageous. There were some rich people but most of us weren’t wealthy at all. We were young.”

On Tuesday, Mr Vasconcellos finished by reflecting “on all the good things in life which make it possible to live with this experience, including the great privilege of having known the people we lost.”

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