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Scottish fisherman saves lives from burning ship

Year 1957

Read by Suzanne Burns – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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Robertson, William, Fisherman

Stanhope Gold Medal 1957

Contributed in a most gallant manner to the saving of the crew of the Seine net fishing boat Venus Star. The action took place at sea off Ullapool, Scotland, between midnight and dawn on 22nd July, 1957.

The Venus Star landed a catch at Ullapool and sailed for Stornaway, the crew turning in, leaving one of their number at the wheelhouse. At 12.10 a.m. the smell of burning was evident in the wheelhouse which intensified and the crew were turned out. Opening the hatch, a formidable fire was seen in the engine which was a petrol-started Diesel.

Another ship was called by Radio Transmitter but this went dead. Despite all the efforts of the crew, the fire increased. Course was altered for Ullapool but the ship could not reach this anchorage so an attempt was made to beach her on Gruinard Island but the engine stopped.

It was now decided to abandon ship. A self-inflating raft was launched but the rope securing it to the ship either parted or was burnt and the raft drifted away. Seeing this, Robertson, who is physically handicapped by being deaf and dumb, jumped into the sea and swam to the raft which had drifted some distance away. He attempted to paddle with his hands to the doomed ship but at one time they were 200 yards apart. Eventually the two drifted together and the crew got on the raft.

The Master of the Venus Star reported, There is no doubt that the very brave action of Robertson saved all our lives for had the raft drifted away I would have given very little for our chances of survival. The night was cold with a fair breeze blowing from the North and there was quite a lot of motion on the sea. By this time the whole ship was ablaze from stem to stern.

The survivors landed at 7 a.m. near Aultbea, but the ship drifted ashore a total wreck.

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