RESCUE groups gathered at a special event to mark the 50th anniversary of a major shipwreck.
The Lebanese cargo steamer Adelfotis II ran aground in South Shields on January 20, 1963.
The vessel, carrying 23 Greek seamen and mascot puppy Manuella, was hit by severe gales in the North Sea.
It had left the Tees the day before, bound for Antwerp, and had passed Whitby when it was caught up in bad weather and forced north.
Crews from the South Shields, Tynemouth and Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigades arrived at the scene in the early hours to rescue the seamen.
They shot ropes on to the ship and used a breeches buoy – a canvas sack attached to a lifebelt – to transfer the men to the shore. This was the last time a breeches buoy was used to save lives in the North East.
Yesterday, an open day was held at the South Shields brigade Watch House to commemorate the event and pay tribute to the rescuers.
Photographs, records and artefacts from the time were put on display, and a slideshow and newsreel film were shown about the grounding of the ship.
Among those present were members of the Robertson family, who took part in the rescue mission.
When the emergency call came in, Bill Robertson, a member of the South Shields life brigade, went to the scene with his teenage sons Ian and Alan.
The lads helped man the ropes attached to the stricken Adelfotis II. Alan, now 63, who was born and bred in South Shields, said: “I was 14 at the time. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night and being taken to the shore in a taxi with my dad and elder brother. We were in a sea scouts group and we knew about rescue equipment.
“The weather was appalling. It was freezing cold and the wind beggared belief. The sand was blowing in our eyes.
“In those days we did not have the protective clothing that is available today. We turned up in duffle coats and pullovers, and everyone just got on with the job.
“A rope line was fired towards the ship with a rocket and it was attached to the vessel. The seamen were then brought along the ropes in breeches buoy. My job was to help with the ropes.”
Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the South Shields life brigade, said: “Everyone of a certain age in South Shields remembers some aspect of the shipwreck.
“This was the first major wreck in the area since the Second World War. It led to a resurgence of interest in the work of the volunteer life brigade.
“In the lead up to it, there had been talk of whether this type of organisation was needed. After this rescue, all this talk stopped.”