Port St Mary Lifeboat Station Callouts: 14 October 1998

The loss of the MFV Amber Rose and her skipper

Amber Rose and Quiet Waters III, two Northern Irish fishing vessels, were operating as partner vessels in pair pelagic trawling. Both had been fishing for herring on 13/14 October 1998 on the grounds to the east of the Isle of Man. After catching a large haul, it was decided to load it aboard Amber Rose. She would then head for Ardglass to land.

While Quiet Waters III headed for Portavogie, Amber Rose remained on the fishing grounds to load the catch. Having filled her three refrigerated seawater (RSW) tanks to capacity she left the remaining herring outboard in the trawl. This was eventually dumped prior to her getting underway. With loading complete, Amber Rose headed for Ardglass and set course to pass to the south of the Isle of Man.

During the passage Amber Rose capsized and sank in a position 11/2 miles south of the Calf of Man in just 20 seconds. Weather conditions at the time were moderate with a force 5 to 6 south-westerly wind and swell.

Emergency services were alerted shortly before 10am by Scottish Fishing News reporter Michael Craine from Onchan, who had been watching the vessel with binoculars. Mr Craine had seen the Amber Rose listing onto its side; he looked away and when he looked again the vessel had gone but shortly after saw the firing red flares and a liferaft. He first phoned the Coastguard using a mobile phone to inform them of what he had saw and than ran to the lifeboat house to inform lifeboat mechanic Eric Quillin of what he had seen, who confirmed the sighting of a liferaft. The mechanic immediately contacted the Coastguards and agreed to set off the maroons to summon the crew. Fortunately the lifeboat was already alongside the breakwater but the lifeboat proceeded short handed of crew , under the command of 2nd cox'n, Mick Kneale with Eric Quillin and only three other crew in view of the urgency of the situation.

After being directed to the location of the liferafts by directions from Mr Craine relayed via the Coastguards, the Port St Mary lifeboat had within 15 minutes recovered the two life rafts from the stricken ship, with crew members John Francis Young, 48, from Bangor, James Gibson, 22, from Portavogie, Robert McMaster, 21, Portavogie, Mark Hughes, 16, son of the missing skipper, and James Hughes.

Concern was raised over the condition of three of the fishermen especially one of them, James Hughes.Another James Gibson had a suspected broken arm and hand injuries as well as suffering hypothermia. A RAF search and rescue Seaking helicopter from RAF Valley, N Wales arrived on scene at little later, airlifted all the survivors and flew them to hospital.

Port St Mary Lifeboat then continued the search for the sixth missing man, the skipper Mr Tom Hughes, along with another Seaking helicopter from the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.

Port Erin Lifeboat was launched to assist in searching the western side of the Calf of Man at 11:10 and a number of fishing vessels also joined in the search for the missing fisherman. The search was called off at 15:45 without finding him, by this time the research vessel 'Rogan' had positively pin-pointed of the wreck using its sonar lying in 40 metres of water.


The Amber Rose pictured when she was called the Scottish Maid, before her purchase by skipper Tom Hughes. She had only being renamed during the summer of 1998. After being refitted in August 1998 her hull had been painted red and the vessel renamed.

MARITIME AND COASTGUARD AGENCY Press Notice No : 199/98 14 October 1998

An emergency 999 call at 10:03 this morning to Liverpool Coastguard alerted them to a sinking 26 metre fishing vessel with 6 people on board, a mile south of the Isle of Man.

The call indicated that the boat was keeling over and flares had been sighted. Liverpool Coastguard immediately requested the launch of the Port St. Mary lifeboat, along with a rescue helicopter from RAF Valley. They also initiated a mayday relay into the area to alert other vessels to the incident. HMS Invincible have responded to the relayed mayday call from 20 miles south of the incident and have sent a helicopter to help in the search and rescue. A further vessel `Rogan' is also on scene as is assisting in the search.

Don McDonald, Deputy District Controller at Liverpool Coastguard said:

" We now have a report of five people being taken aboard the [Port St Mary] lifeboat, and all five are being taken to hospital [they were airlifted from the lifeboat by Rescue helicopter and flown to Nobles hospital, Douglas]. The search for the missing man is going on in rough weather. Winds are north westerly force 6 - 7 with rough seas. However, visibility is good but with some showers. "


Northern Ireland Fishing Producers Organisation chief executive Dick James, after hearing the survivors' accounts of the tragedy, told Fishing News: "The miracle was that five men got out alive".

Amber Rose was just south of the Isle of Man, steaming back to Portavogie with around 60 tonnes of herring aboard at the time of sinking. There was a strong tide running and a punchy south-westerly force six wind. Victor Young, who was on watch, escaped through a wheelhouse window as soon as he realised the boat was turning over. 'The first thing be saw when he got out was the keel in the air with the propellor turning - it was real Titanic stuff" , Mr James said.

Noel McMaster, James Gibson and Skipper Tom Hughes were below decks in a passageway near the galley, when a surge of water slammed shut an inner door, leaving them trapped. Noel McMaster found himself inside an air pocket in the galley, while James Gibson, kicking with all his might against the door, managed to force it open and make his way to the surface.

As soon as he broke through, Noel McMaster - still inside the air pocket - was flushed out of the ship, without injury, by the force of incoming water. Tom Hughes, it seems, was not so lucky. Meanwhile, young Mark Hughes, the skipper's son, had made his way out of the ship only to find himself caught up in a cable and being pulled down. He just managed to extricate himself but surfaced a quarter of a mile away from Jimmy Hughes, Victor Young and Noel McMaster, who after clinging to a life-ring had all clambered aboard a liferaft and set off emergency flares.Fortunately for Mark Hughes, however, James Gibson (22) who was in only his third week at fishing, surfaced in the same area and helped the exhausted 16 year old to the raft.

"Jimmy Gibson was probably the most remarkable of the lot", Dick James said. "He's a survivor, with a sheer will to live." A month ago Mr Gibson was earning a living as a kitchen fitter; but three weeks into his new career he found himself in a mysterious and tragic sinking.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Hughes has been unable to give his version of accounts. He is still in hospital in the Isle of Man, where - as well as oil in his lungs it seems he may have suffered at least one heart attack.

Dick James passed on his and the crew's and their families' thanks to a variety of organisations and individuals who have helped with the rescue and search: Joe Breen, of the Irish Research Technology Unit, who has given the service of his underwater monitoring vehicle; DANI, for the use of the fishery protection boat Ken Vickers, skippered by Billy Eccles; divers Billy Robinson and Hulltech; and the police and coastguard in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and England.

As Fishing News went to press on Tuesday, divers were hoping for a break in otherwise appalling conditions to try and recover Skipper Tom Hughes' body - but forecasts were for even worse weather later this week.

Source : Fishing News 23 October 1998

For his part in saving the lives of three of his colleagues ( Mark Hughes,Noel McMaster and Jimmy Hughes) , Jimmy Gibson was awarded the Royal Humane Society gallantry medal.

Sadly, the body of the fisherman, Mr Tom Hughes of Portavogie (the skipper and owner of the vessel) was located some days later by divers, still on board the sunken fishing vessel. Unfortunately due to winter weather and the strong tides in the location of the wreck it was another 4 months and 3 seperate diving expeditions before the skippers body was finally recovered by 6 volunteer divers some of whom came from the Royal Ulster Constabulary Diving Team. They all gave their time and expertise to successfully complete what was an extremely difficult and hazardous task. Skipper Hughes' body was returned home to Portavogie on board a Northern Irish fisheries protection vessel 'Ken Vickers'.

Postscript (August 2000): The Marine Accident Investigation Board published the results of its enquiry into the loss of the MFV Amber Rose on the 26 July 2000.

This report found that the causes of the sinking were: the most probable cause of the capsize and sinking of Amber Rose was undetected flooding of the forward spaces.

Contributory causes were: the failure of the bilge alarm in the RSW tank space, overloading of the vessel, the failure to have the vessel's stability re-calculated after substantial modifications and not having the vessel re-inclined after a refit in Buckie [which had occurred only a few weeks before the vessels capsize].

The investigation has resulted in three recommendations to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) covering: detention procedures, improving fishermen's awareness and understanding of stability, and the reliability and maintainability of bilge alarms.

A full transcript of their findings maybe obtained at the DETR press website at


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Last edited 05 August 2000 ;

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