October 1968 saw Meeching's most famous incident involving the
Norwegian tanker Sitakund. She caught fire in the shipping lanes
off Beachy Head after three large explosions in her tanks. While
the Royal Navy frigate HMS Mohawk was warning all vessels to
keep clear, and the famous Dutch salvage tug Zwarte Zee was
making frantic radio calls offering her assistance, Meeching
quietly slipped in and made fast. It was my Dad who made the
radio call saying simply "We have taken the casualty in tow, by
the stern and are proceeding towards Eastbourne bay". This
stunned Mohawk's radio operator into silence for a few moments
and you could hear the gulp in his voice when he responded with
"Roger, wait, out!"
The intention was to beach her off Pevensey, but towing a
burning and sinking tanker is not an exact science! She
eventually grounded on rocks off Eastbourne Promenade, prompting
ridiculous comments from some of Eastbourne's councillors about
her being deliberately placed there! For the next two days,
Meeching led the fire fighting operations, along with the
Dominant from Dover and personnel from Eastbourne Fire Brigade.
Zwarte Zee did eventually turn up and, like Hermes, got too
close. My Dad eventually called her up on VHF radio and
threatened to turn high-pressure fire hoses on her if she didn't
withdraw - she did!
With the fires out, Sitakund then became a tourist attraction
for some time. The forward section was towed away in mid 1969 to
Falmouth by the tug Englishman, but the burnt out stern section
remained for some time longer before eventually being refloated
and towed away to Spain.