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One of Scotland’s worst maritime disasters remembered 50 years on

Poignant commemorations are to take place in Orkney to mark the 50th anniversary.

The Princess Royal will travel to Hoy on Sunday to join rescue volunteers from across the north for a service of remembrance following the loss of Longhope Lifeboat on March 17, 1969.

Eight crewmen aboard the lifeboat TGB died after the vessel capsized during an operation to rescue the Liberian cargo ship Irene as a rough storm battered the north.

After it failed to return, crews from Thurso and Stromness discovered the vessel upside down in the Pentland Firth, with the bodies of all but one crew member within the hull.

Longhope Lifeboat TGB

The disaster wiped out a third of the Brims population, leaving its mark on every household in the community.

Current Longhope coxswain Kevin Kirkpatrick and his wife Karen both lost their father, uncle and grandfather during the tragedy. The couple’s children Jack and Stella also serve on the RNLI crew.

Mr Kirkpatrick said the anniversary will be “an emotional day for us all”.

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He said: “The tragic loss of our eight lifeboat men and the ultimate sacrifice they made will never be forgotten here but it is due to the strength and resilience of our local community that our lifeboat station continues and still operates from Longhope today.”

Lifeboat crews from Longhope, Thurso, Wick and Stromness will also be joined by the Coastguard tug MV Levoli Black, a harbour tug, pilot boat and vintage lifeboat from Ireland at Aith Hope to dip their flags as a mark of respect.

A service will also take place at the memorial in Osmundwall Cemetery.

Jacob Davies, Lifesaving Manager for the RNLI in Scotland, said: “This is an incredibly poignant time for our Longhope lifeboat crew, their families, the Hoy community and, of course, the RNLI as a whole.

Route of Longhope lifeboat

“In March we will mark 50 years since the loss of the crew of T.G.B. and the continuing effect that their loss has had on their families and the community.”

He added: “We thank our existing crew and their families for the efforts they are making to ensure the anniversary commemorations are so fitting.

“As an organisation we are reminded of the terrible sacrifice that the crew made on the night of March 17th 1969 and remember the bravery that it takes to go to the aid of those in danger around our coast. We are also grateful to our current crew for their continued support of the RNLI on Hoy.”

MSPs remember the disaster

MSPs yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Longhope Lifeboat disaster by paying tribute to the eight brave crewmen who died.

Moving speeches were made at Holyrood as the sacrifice of the men from Brims in Longhope in Orkney on March 17 1969 was commemorated.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur held a members debate that resulted in MSPs, from across the parties, backing a motion remembering the tragedy and offering “heartfelt” thanks for the courage of all lifeboat crews.

Liam McArthur MSP

Mr McArthur said: “Brims is a small township – at that time numbering 30 people.  Such a catastrophic loss – at a stroke – of a quarter of its population is quite unimaginable.

“More than that, the eight men who lost their lives included two fathers, each with two sons on-board…. All told, the community of Brims was left with seven widows and 10 fatherless children.”

The vessel went down with all hands after it was launched into mountainous waves to go to the aid of the Liberian cargo ship, SS Irene.

The cargo ship eventually ran aground and everyone on board was saved. But the Longhope Lifeboat capsized and its crew, which had been highly decorated for past acts of bravery, perished.

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