DENIS Connolly points to a photograph of the largely untouched bow of the boat. “There are wooden boxes there – see them – and they are perfect,’ he says, pointing to three or four boxes strewn across the deck without so much as a scorch mark on any of them.
Denis, who was one of the first to see the fire on the night, has a theory that if the ship had been facing the other direction – with the bow facing inwards, as was the norm, there may have been a very different outcome.
The accommodation section, where many of the men had been sleeping, was at the stern side, and the wind direction meant the fire that night blew right towards them, leaving the bow intact.
Denis, who became fascinated with the disaster and subsequently made his own well-researched documentary, shows me another photo of a tanker docking at the terminal, with the pilot boats pushing it up against the jetty.
It is faced the opposite way to the Betelgeuse, stern facing the town.
‘This is the way they normally came in,’ he says. Nobody he met, then or since, seems to know why the Betelgeuse was pointing out towards the sea, but the tribunal said it was not an issue that warranted any investigation as there was ‘nothing unusual’ about it – although several witnesses commented on it to The Southern Star this year.
And if it hadn’t been berthed facing the sea, everything could have been so very different that night.
Denis was driving into town in the early hours of January 8th when he noticed the flames from Whiddy. So he drove out towards the airstrip and up the hill beyond it to get a better view of the island.
It was 12.40am by now, he noted, and he could see it quite clearly. The next day he heard a report on RTE from an oil company boss saying the fire started closer to midnight. So when he saw RTÉ reporter Derek Davis at a memorial service for the victims in Bantry the next day, he approached him.
‘I said somebody is either misinformed or is telling lies, and Derek asked me if I was prepared to go on camera and say I had seen the fire at 12.40, and I did.’
After that the question of timing came sharply into focus and it was one of the main questions the tribunal was required to consider.
The Tribunal described Denis Connolly’s testimony as ‘further evidence of the existence of the fire at 00.40 hours.’
Denis became so fascinated with the tragic story of the Betelgeuse, and the conflicting timelines, that he set about making his own documentary to try and get to the truth of what happened that night.
He interviewed a huge selection of eye-witnesses, Gulf employees, Bantry locals and relatives of the victims, and came to the same conclusion as Justice Costello in the Tribunal report – that the real truth has never been told.