Account in the words of K.E. Keenan
“On the night of 24th November 1953 Gaselees VESPA was nearer Albert Dock coming down river on the beinning of the ebb tide with a tow of six barges. Her skipper was Bill Turnwell , mate George Ogles , engineer George Baldwin and greaser Edward Littlejohn. The mate Ogles had the wheel on this cold night when all of a sudden the Wilson Line ship MALMO rounded Gallions Point.
The MALMO sounded its horn to which the sound signal rapidly brought Turnwell and Littlejohn up from sleeping and onto VESPA’s deck. VESPA was struck and holed in the port quarter and sank within seconds. The rush of water into the engine room amazingly generated a blast of air out of one of the skylights which carried engineer Baldwin free with it.
By a stroke of fortune another Gaselees tug TAYRA was nearby. Claude Finch was her master and Jack Miller the mate. Having heard the noise and guessing trouble was afoot, the skipper shouted to the mate to let go off the tow. TAYRA quickly went out in search and with the aid of a searchlight found the four men being carried away in the ebb tide. They were soon plucked from the water and taken to North Woolwich pier where an ambulance took them onto Albert Dock hospital.
TAYRA then went in search of VESPA’s tow which was not too far away and was picked up. VESPA’s engineer was in his sixties and in the 34 years he had been working for Gaselee he had never gone overboard once and must of realised that a gauridan angel was overlooking them that night.
VESPA was not on the bottom for long, the PLA raised her the next day. She was repaired and re-engined and back in service a few months later”
VESPA was again involved in another incident in which a young man named David Sharp was not so lucky, he was the boy on VESPA and had worked for the firm for just over a year. VESPA was off Battersea in the early hours of 17th Septebmer 1957 , making for Fulham with a tow. David was asleep in the after cabin and just before dawn was called to commence his duties on deck. The crew were concerned after David failed to appear and it was not until later that it was understood that David had tripped upon coming onto deck and stumbled overboard and tragically drown.
Amazingly VESPA still continues to operate today with Laxey Towing Company!