THE lifeboat at the centre of a maritime disaster that claimed nine lives made a poignant return to its home port more than half a century after the tragedy.
RNLI lifeboats from Sunderland, Tynemouth and Hartlepool provided a guard of honour as former Seaham lifeboat George Elmy returned home for the first time since capsizing in 1962.
At the time of the capsize, the lifeboat was just feet from Seaham Harbour’s South Pier after rescuing four crew members and a nine-year-old boy from the fishing boat Economy, which had foundered in stormy seas off Dawdon Colliery, when it was hit by two huge waves.
John Miller, Frederick Gippert, Arthur L. Brown, James Farrington, Arthur Brown, Gordon Burrell, George Firth, Joseph Kennedy and young David Burrell all died, with only the boy’s father Donald surviving by clinging to the propeller shafts of the upturned boat.
The Liverpool class lifeboat was subsequently removed from Seaham by the RNLI and was thought to have disappeared entirely but in 2009 was spotted for sale on eBay. It was discovered that the George Elmy had been severely damaged and was taken away by the RNLI for investigations and repair, later going back into service in the charity’s relief fleet.
She performed her last active service on 26 August 1971 when she rescued seven crew members from a yacht, after which she was retired from the fleet and sold the following year.
And now, after a long restoration project managed by East Durham Heritage Group, a fundraising campaign and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, George Elmy made the three-hour journey to Seaham from her berth at the Royal Quays, North Shields, arriving at 1.40pm.
Before entering the marina, she stopped at the site of the capsize for the crew to lay a wreath in memory of those lost in 1962.
After that, she briefly and poignantly touched the disused launching slipway that she tragically failed to return to 50 years ago.
There was then a formal blessing and re-naming ceremony close to where the original one was held almost exactly 63 years ago.
Hundreds of local people turned out to welcome the lifeboat home, to where she will now take pride of place in the former Seaham lifeboat station, which has been renovated as part of the development of Seaham’s North Dock and now forms part of the East Durham Heritage and Lifeboat Centre.