Liverpool to commemorate 40-year anniversary of Falklands loss
Liverpool, England – In the spring of 1982, the British Government requisitioned merchant vessels to be part of a Royal Navy task force sailing to the Falkland Islands. Included were Atlantic Conveyor and Atlantic Causeway (owned by Cunard and operated by Atlantic Container Line (ACL), who were also partly owned by Cunard at the time). Both vessels were converted into aircraft carriers and the forward deck areas became landing platforms for helicopters and Harrier fighters.
Just before sunset on 25th of May 1982, the Atlantic Conveyor was struck by an Argentinian Exocet missile, hitting her amidships. The evacuation of the vessel took approximately fifteen minutes with most of the survivors being rescued by Royal Navy helicopters and other task force vessels.
Several men lost their lives that day including the Master and veteran of the North Atlantic, Captain Ian North, along with five other Cunard Staff: Bosun John Dobson, PO II Engineer James Hughes, PO II Engineer Ernest Vickers, PO I Engineer Frank Foulkes and Assistant Steward David Hawkins. Six Royal Navy personnel on board were also lost. All twenty Harriers were either airborne or managed to take off in time, but the Sea King, Wessex and Chinook helicopters on the internal roll-on roll-off decks were lost.
The fire raged onboard The Conveyor for several days and she was connected to a salvage tug in the hope of towing her back to the UK, but the vessel sank on 28th of May 1982, becoming the last British merchant vessel sunk during war time.
The new Atlantic Conveyor launched 12th July 1984 and served during 1990 as part of the “Desert Storm” task force. The new Atlantic Conveyor operated for ACL for over 30 years on the North Atlantic and her final voyage sailed from Liverpool 13th August 2017 when she was replaced by the newest vessel in ACL’s fleet, Atlantic Sea. Atlantic Sea was christened by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal in Liverpool on 20th of October 2016.
At 9:15am, a service will take place at the Merchant Navy Memorial at the Pier Head, led by the Rector of Liverpool, the Reverend Canon Dr Crispin Pailing, attended by the Lord Mayor, civic dignitaries and representatives from Atlantic Container Line, Cunard, the South Atlantic Medal Association and the Falklands Islands government.
Later, at 10:30am, a Service of Remembrance will take place at Liverpool Parish Church, and at the Atlantic Conveyor Memorial outside the church. It is being live streamed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Yvf3ZZnXMU
Andrew J. Abbott, President & CEO of ACL, said: “I boarded the Atlantic Conveyor many times during the late ‘70’s while she was berthed in New York for cargo operations. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Captain North on multiple occasions for ship parties and staff training sessions. He was the quintessential British sea captain: an expert on every aspect of his ship, close to all of his officers and crew, always helpful, always witty, always professional. I remember the shock I felt the day we learned we had lost him and so many of his crew. I remember the shock I felt to learn that the Conveyor had gone down.
“It is one thing to read about events in history books, but the impact is different when you knew the people and walked the ship. Let us always remember and honour these brave men who lost their lives forty years ago. Their country called and they answered. May they rest in peace.”
Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Mary Rasmussen, said: “Liverpool has a proud history of playing a key role in supporting all of our Armed Forces during conflicts, and the Falklands was no exception.
“The 40th anniversary of the attack on the Atlantic Conveyor is an opportunity for us to reflect on the selfless sacrifice made by the Cunard crew who volunteered to be part of the mission, as well as the Merchant Navy personnel who lost their lives.
“Even though this tragedy took place four decades ago, conflicts and wars remain an ever-present danger.”
Angus Struthers, Senior Vice President, Cunard, said: “Service to the nation is embedded in Cunard’s 182-year timeline.
“Our ships – and their crews who volunteered to sail on them – as part of the South Atlantic Task Force 40 years ago, played a significant part in the Falklands Campaign.
“The attack on the Liverpool ship Atlantic Conveyor on 25 May 1982, and its loss with six Cunard crew and six service personnel was the first sinking of a British Merchant ship in action since World War 2.
“It is entirely fitting that we return to the Conveyor’s homeport, and Cunard’s spiritual home at Liverpool, to mark this important anniversary of lives lost in service.”
Gary Doyle, Group Harbour Master at Peel Ports Group said: “Liverpool has long had a vital role as a base for naval operations, as a maritime logistics hub for our national defence. That’s one reason we are proud supporters of the Armed Forces Covenant that helps provide new careers for veterans and support for reservists. Memorial events act as an important reminder to current and future generations about the value of peace and the sacrifices made by service personnel and the merchant navy. Our thoughts during the commemoration will be with all those affected by the tragic events that occurred during the Falklands War, including the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor. I know all colleagues at Peel Ports will support and respect this important event.”
Dr Gordon Brooks Ex Medical Officer, Atlantic Conveyor, who was on board the vessel at the time, said: “Although the Atlantic Conveyor was requisitioned to transport Harriers to the front line, planners soon saw the potential for trying something new. By the time her brave volunteer merchant crew took her out of Plymouth with a tri-service military party on board, she’d been transformed into a makeshift merchant aircraft carrier, stuffed with stores and munitions, that could refuel, arm, launch, recover and repair rotary and fixed-wing aircraft.
“Despite the myriad problems resulting from her breakneck conversion, her two crews worked together with humour, initiative, and resilience to solve them right through to the final conflagration and misery of her abandonment. It was my privilege and honour to serve alongside such men. On this anniversary, I remember those I tried to save, the heroes who didn’t return, and my thoughts go out to those who still carry the burden of what befell them all those years ago.”
Rector of Liverpool, the Reverend Canon Dr Crispin Pailing, said: “The Falklands Conflict is a moment in our lifetime, but it had a profound effect on so many people and we mourn many lives lost, including from this city.
“It is a privilege to host this commemoration, but we also celebrate the commitment which led to the forming of a taskforce to liberate islanders from the oppression of an invading force.”
PLACE: Merchant Navy Memorial, Liverpool Pier Head
DATE: Wednesday 25 May
EVENT: Service to mark 40 years since the Atlantic Conveyor was struck during the Falklands conflict