Shipwrecked! MS Athina B

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.

Photograph donated to Royal Pavilion & Museums by Lavender Jones

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.

Photograph donated to Museums by H H Bridger & Co. Ltd. captioned ‘Main deck starboard side, looking aft, showing buckled deck plating’

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 anchor of the Athina B pictured in January 2020

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

11 Responses

  1. Shan Lancaster

    I was there as the ship was towed away… A vast crowd turned up with sightseers from all over the country, there was a band – Salvation Army? – and it was really, really foggy. Within seconds of the ship reaching the water it vanished completely. The fog swallowed it up and all anyone saw of its departure on its final voyage was the rope disappearing into grey nothingness. But the crowd sang it goodbye anyway. Brilliant.

    • Dan Robertson

      Hello Shan!
      Thanks for your comment. It appears that the “foggier” images above probably date to the 17 February 1980 when the ship was re-floated by Eurosalve. The gentleman leading the operation and the focus of media attention was the company’s boss, Jim Rowland. The Evening Argus of 11 February 1980 features an article on him and the salvage operation which you contributed to!
      All the best,
      Dan Robertson – Curator of Local History & Archaeology

  2. Jim Breeds

    Very interesting. I have a set of photos (35mm slides) that I took from the beach a few days after she came ashore. I think I have already scanned these on my computer but for the moment I’m not sure where I have filed them. But if anyone at the museum is interested I can find them or re-scan them.

    • Dan Robertson

      Hello Jim!
      Thank you for your comment and kind offer of further images. I have emailed you separately regarding this.
      Best wishes,
      Dan Robertson – Curator of Local History & Archaeology

  3. Graham Carter

    This always has a special memory for my wife and I. We were out on a blind date on 2nd Feb 1980 and after a meal at Browns we went for a walk along the sea front. It was a clear night, the moon was shinning and it was all quite romantic. Lovely memories. We celebrate our meeting anniversary every year. 40 year meeting anniversary .

    • Dan Robertson

      Hello Graham!
      Thank you for your comment. How wonderful! Wishing you and your wife a happy anniversary for 2 February.
      All the best,
      Dan Robertson – Curator of Local History & Archaeology

  4. Avril Dean

    I remember going for a run along the beach the evening it grounded and wondering what had happened. Went down the next morning and there was a policeman with a megaphone shouting “off the beach ,” to anyone who ventured near.

  5. Janis Winkworth

    I was also watching the ship disappear into the fog. I’m sure the band was the Salvation Army. The whole experience was quite extraordinary and memorable.

  6. Leigh Hunter

    I just brought a beautiful painting of the Athena B it’s now on my bedroom wall it looks grand

  7. Andrew Sparsis

    I recently visited Jacks family in Cyprus, Jack opened a Fish & Chip shop in Portslade in 1981 named Athina B and testimony to the fame Athina B earned. Athina B was sailing under a Greek flag when she ran aground after being purchased from Japan where she was built in Hiroshima 1968. The Fish & Chip shop is still there but I wonder if any customers salting there chips know why it’s called Athina B

  8. Martin Downy

    I had moved to Brighton in 1979 and on the evening of 21st January 1980 was travelling down Ditchling Road from an evening class in Patcham when I saw a flare in the sky to the south. It was a very windy night and, thinking it might be a ship in trouble, drove down to the sea front. When I got to Madeira Drive you could just make out the shape of a ship just offshore and that was the Athina B just before it grounded. There was hardly anyone around and just a solitary police car. This must have been about eleven thirty. The next day the story was all over the media.

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