Oil disaster recalled sad family memories
Sir — On the morning of January 8, 1979, I was on a night shift at Great Island Power Station in Co Wexford, working as an operating technician looking after one of Ireland’s largest steam turbine generators of the time, the 120mw Unit 3.
About 6.30am, I turned on the radio in the control room to listen to RTE’s early morning news bulletin. The headline item was the Whiddy Island disaster, the explosion of the oil tanker Betelgeuse in Bantry Bay, with the loss of many lives.
After the initial shock had worn off, I telephoned my father with the news. My reason stemmed from several years previously when my dad was called to the High Court in Dublin — up against ‘wigs and gowns’, while John Baldwin represented himself — to be humbled (despite the sympathy of the judge) by the legal people representing the Gulf Oil company.
Gulf Oil had denied my father any compensation after a previous spillage of oil into Bantry Bay, when my father had been buying herrings from the local skiffs and processing the salted fish into barrels.
All of John Baldwin’s fish on the pier at Bantry had been declared ‘condemned’ by a local heath inspector, and around 20 tonnes ready for shipping to Holland had to be destroyed.
I will remember until my dying day my father’s words after that terrible incident at the Whiddy Island: “I only lost my livelihood, Thomas, but those poor men have lost their lives, lost everything, and all because of Gulf Oil’s continued ineptitude and carelessness.” Tom Baldwin, Midleton, Co Cork