Over 40 years ago, the Athina B was making its way for Shoreham Harbour with a cargo of 3,000 tonnes of pumice from the Azores. On the 20 January 1980, force 7-8 winds prevented her from entering the harbour. Her engines failed: a Mayday call was issued.
The lifeboat was scrambled and initially four of the ship’s passengers including the Captain’s wife and children were rescued. It was the following night in force 8-10 winds that the lifeboat rescued the last of the crew, finding the ship aground on Brighton beach between the Palace Pier and Banjo Groyne. All 25 persons aboard the ship were rescued without loss of life.
For a time, the Athina B became a popular tourist attraction with thousands making their way to Brighton beach to catch a glimpse of the stranded hulk. Such was the interest, enterprising individuals sought to make money from the unseasonal surge in visitors: even Volk’s Electric Railway ran trains outside of its usual summer operations for additional income.
A major salvage operation was undertaken to remove the ship’s cargo under the watchful eye of the police. Declared a write-off, the Athina B was re-floated and on the 17 February 1980 she was towed away to Rainham to be broken up.
The ship’s anchor was later presented to the town and sited on Madeira Drive near the site where it ran aground. The anchor and the accompanying plaque commemorate the events of the 20-21 January which live on in the memories and photographs of many Brightonians and those who visited it in the winter of 1980.
Royal Pavilion & Museums holds a few items relating to the Athina B kindly donated by a number of people over the decades. The colour photographs in the slideshow above were taken by Peter Gumbrell. These appear to show the stricken ship being made more secure with a radio crew present and part of the salvage operation. Should anyone wish to suggest what is happening and the persons involved, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
For further material relating to the Athina B in Royal Pavilion & Museums’ collections, take a look at our Digital Media Bank and the website of The Keep archive. Further tales of the Athina B can be found on the My Brighton & Hove website, and film footage can be viewed via Screen Archive South East.
Dan Robertson – Curator of Local History & Archaeology