Texaco Caribbean disaster 51 years ago this week

The days following the 11th January 1971 saw one of the worst peacetime disasters around the coast of the UK. The tanker, Texaco Caribbean was on passage from the Netherlands to Trinidad when it was struck by the freighter Paracas in thick fog.

The Texaco Caribbean split in two, one section immediately sinking in the middle of the outbound shipping lane, close to the Varne Bank in the Dover Straights. Eight sailors lost their lives with many others injured. The Paracas was seriously damaged but was towed to Hamberg.

The Trinity House vessel Siren left Harwich loaded with wreck marking buoys and arrived on scene at about 16:30. However, despite the presence of the lighthouse tender and almost constant broadcasts from North Foreland Radio the next day the Brandenberg ran into the wreck at full speed and immediately sank. Fishermen in the area began to pick up survivors and Siren and North Foreland Radio picked up radio traffic that confirmed the casualty.

Despite these two incidents, ships still ran perilously close to the wrecks and Lightvessel No 6 was hastily painted green and modified to show a green light (the internationally recognised identification for a wreck marking lightship). In time two older lightships (lightvessel 72 and lightvessel 81) were prepared and placed on station marking the wreck.

Despite this, on 27 February 1971 the Greek ship Niki ignored the lightships signals and also ran into the wreck, meaning that in all, four ships were lost or seriously damaged as a result of the incident.

Our illustration shows all three lightvessels involved in marking these wrecks. As far as we know, no colour photographs of the wreck making vessels exist and our interpretation is hopefully close to how these vessels would have looked.