The Secil Japan was a cargo ship of 2625 gross tonnage, nearly 300ft long with a beam of about 50 ft. Built by Iami Seisakysho Kamijima, she was launched in 1982. On the 12th of March 1989, the Secil Japan was enroute from Aveiro to Liverpool when her steering collapsed of the North Cornish Coast. As darkness fell, battered by huge waves and 55knot winds, the Secil Japan was pushed ever closer to the Cornish cliffs and finally ended up wedged in the apropriately named Hell’s Mouth, between Portreath and Hayle.
Helicopters had already been scrambled from RNAS. Couldrose, and RAF. Brady in South Wales, with the Coastguard on the cliffs co-ordinating operations. Around midnight the rescue helicopters arrived over the wreck to be met by a fearsome sight in their brilliant searchlights. The huge waves were banging into the stricken ship and then bouncing off the cliffs creating 150 ft sheets of spray.
On board the ship the 16 Korean crewmen were frantic, and as the ship started to break up, they retreated to the bridge, huddling together for warmth and comfort. With one helicopter standing watch, the rescue helicoptor from RAF. Brawdy lowered a winchman, Flight Sergeant Dodsworth into the breaking waves. After being swamped several times and knocked off his feet, Dodsworth managed to make his way to the bridge where he coaxed the crewmen, one by one, into the winch strop. 15 men were lifted off safely, but one fell out of the strop and perished in the furious sea.
The crews of both aircraft were presented with the Edward and Masie Lewis award by the Shipwrecked Mariners Society for a most outstanding airsea rescue. Flight Sergeant Dodsworth also received the Air Force Medal for his outstanding bravery. The Walk. To get to Hell’s Mouth drive from either Hayle or Portreath on the B3301. You will find the spendidly named Hell’s Mouth Cafe situated about mid way between the two. You can’t miss it, and it has a carpark.
Just across the road you will find the South West Coastal Path. You can walk miles along this in any direction you want, seeing some very spectacular scenery. However the bit we want is just a few hundred yards away to the right of the carpark. Hell’s Mouth is stunning, and at low tide it is easy to see what is left of the Secil Japans wreckage. If you are lucky, you will also see some seals on the rocks below.
I hate to do a bit of ‘elf and safety, but these cliffs are terribly unstable, and whole chunks have slid into the sea in recent times, due to all the bad weather we have been having. The National Trust, who maintain the path, have roped quite a lot off, but provided diversions so that you can still see the wreck and the seals. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the video.
There is no pub nearby, you will have to go to Portreath, but the cafe is great, serving good food at reasonable prices. Give it a go.