In the early hours of the 8th January 1979 a massive explosion rocked Bantry Bay and a lethal firestorm engulfed the French oil tanker, “Betelgeuse”, which was berthed at Whiddy Island oil terminal. Fifty people died in the inferno but only twenty seven bodies were ever recovered. In fact not one person aboard the ship nor any of the Gulf employees on the terminal jetty that night was saved.
A Tribunal of Inquiry was established under High Court judge, Declan Costello. The Tribunal laid the blame for the disaster squarely on the shoulders of Total and Gulf Oil, the owners of the tanker and the oil terminal respectively. Some witnesses who gave evidence at the Tribunal were found to have lied. However the Tribunal was not able to establish in detail what transpired on the ship and jetty on that horrific night.
The pain and the anguish suffered by the families of those who were lost still endures to this day, nowhere more so than in an area of northwest France where many of the 42 French crew of the “Betelgeuse” came from. Thirty eight years on from the Whiddy Island disaster they are still searching for answers. Why did their loved ones die and could more have been done to save them?
Scannal travels to coast of Brittany where relatives of those who died gather each year to commemorate and to remember. For the first time they tell their story.
I left him on at the train station in St Malo and I had the feeling that it was the last time that I would see him. – Ginette Ravaleu (wife of Marcel Ravelau)
We were on our way to school, we heard on the radio that a tanker had exploded in Ireland, my mother started screaming Papa Papa. – Nadine Perherin (daughter of Pierre Huet)
I felt duty bound to try and do something about it , you can’t brush an incident like that, where people are left to die, under the carpet of history. Michael Kingston (son of Timothy Kingston)
There is something major wrong, something that we haven’t been told that’s being hidden from us – Mary Kingston (wife of Timothy Kingston, 31, whose body was not found for eight months)
It bothers me the lies that people told, they have to live with themselves. Eoin Warner (son of David Warner, Ship’s Pilot on the night of the explosion )
I think of him all the time, his death follows me. – Colette Spitzbarth (sister of Jean Spitzbarth, Electrical Officer on board the Betelgeuse)
Presenter/Reporter: Padraig O’Driscoll 0863499444
Producer/Director: Frank Hand