6th August 1964

A tomato ship and a tanker collided

Guernsey Coast, a motor-driven cargo ship, collided with Catcher, a Liberian steam-powered tanker, on 6 August 1964. The ships were just off the Normandy coast. One crew member was killed in the collision and the Guernsey Coast’s £23,000 tomato cargo was lost.

The Guernsey Coast was heading from St Peter Port to Shoreham with a crew of 10 and a cargo of almost 300 tons of tomatoes. Her course took her across the Catcher’s path, which was enroute from Antwerp in the Netherlands to San Juan in Puerto Rico.

The ships were sailing through the night and in poor weather. Visibility was mixed, but frequently hampered by fog. This was so thick it required the Guernsey Coast to use her fog horn right up until the point of collision, which happened at around 2.30 in the morning.

The moment of impact

The crew on the Guernsey Coast had spotted the Catcher on radar and adjusted their course to accommodate it. Nonetheless, the Chief Officer, who was on the side of the bridge closest to the Catcher, reported that she still seemed to be getting closer. Before any evasive manoeuvres could be taken, the Catcher’s lights were visible through the bridge windows. It was clearly less than 200 metres ahead.

The tomato ship turned hard to starboard (right), and then hard to port (left), but it was too late. The ships collided. The Catcher, which was more than 11 times the tonnage of the Guernsey Coast, pierced one of the Guernsey Coast’s three compartments. The Guernsey Coast immediately started to flood and tilt in the water.

The two boats were still connected, so the crew of the Guernsey Coast boarded the Catcher. The second engineer and the chief engineer were the last to head for the ladders leading up to the Catcher. They had been below deck stopping the engine. They reached them just as the Guernsey Coast keeled over fully.

The second engineer scrambled aboard. However, the chief engineer and the master, who had been waiting at the foot of the ladder, were thrown into the sea. The master was later saved, but the chief engineer was never seen again. It had taken only seven minutes from the point of impact for the Guernsey Coast to sink.

At a subsequent inquiry at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, the captain of the Guernsey Coast, John Healy, had his certificate suspended for twelve months for sailing his vessel at excessive speed given the conditions and not stopping in time when the fog horn of the Catcher became audible.


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Other events that occured in August

The Saumarez Memorial foundation stone was laid 1st
Guernsey won double-silver at the Commonwealth Games 2nd
Earl Grey was appointed Governor of Guernsey 3rd
A boy scout fell 250ft over a Torteval Cliff 4th
Jethou tenant was rescued from an up-turned boat 5th
A tomato ship and a tanker collided 6th
Human remains were found on Lihou 7th
The Beatles played at Candie Gardens 8th
The RAF bombed Guernsey Airport 9th
Guernesiais linguist Marie de Garis died 10th
Alderney experienced a total eclipse of the sun 11th
A minister was found dead at Icart Point 12th
Guernsey steam tramway is granted its concession 13th
Police found a bomb in Bluebell Wood 14th
Hanois Lighthouse’s foundation stone was laid 15th
Charlie Chaplin played in St Peter Port 16th
St Peter Port inundated with fish 17th
A royal visit… of sorts
The Rolling Stones played St Peter Port 18th
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published 19th
Archaeologist Crystal Bennet was born 20th
Mapmaking geologist John MacCulloch died 21st
St Sampson pensioner was buried in a landslide 22nd
Trident VI ran aground on its return from Herm 23rd
Queen Victoria visited Guernsey 24th
The post-Occupation military government was disbanded 25th
Wesleyans celebrated 100 years on Guernsey 26th
Oliver Reed was jailed in Guernsey 27th
Guernsey’s Reform Law was enacted 28th
Winston Churchill visited Guernsey with his wife 29th
Philip de Saumarez was discharged as a Jurat 30th
Jersey swimmers set a round-Guernsey record 31st