The rescue steamer Vestkysten arrived on the west coast of Jutland in December 1895. The acquisition of the rescue steamer was a direct consequence of the great disaster in 1893, when 48 west coast fishermen drowned. The acquisition of Vestkysten provided a seaworthy ship that could save fishermen in their open boats at sea, rather than merely by lifeboats launched from land.
The rescue steamer was also responsible for keeping an eye on the approach in the Thyborøn Channel, and keeping it properly marked with buoys and beacons. The steamer could also tug vessels in and out of the channel should the weather or an accident make it necessary.
The picture shows rescue steamer Vestkysten at the entrance to Lemvig harbour on September 9, 1900.
Owned by the Ministry of Fisheries
The rescue steamer was stationed in Lemvig until 1916, when Thyborøn Harbour was completed.
The Ministry of Fisheries owned the rescue steamer, while the lifeboats belonged to the Rescue Brigade.
On Vestkysten’s 40th anniversary, the tally showed that it had provided assistance to a total of 537 fishing boats and 2,295 fishermen. In addition, a number of merchant vessels had been assisted.
Another rescue steamer
While the rescue steamer Vestkysten was put to good use, it soon became clear that it could not succeed alone. An additional vessel was required, enabling operations both north and south of the Thyborøn Channel in poor weather conditions. In 1904, rescue steamer Vesterhavet was added, also based in Lemvig Harbour.
Vesterhavet in action
In its first week of service, Vesterhavet was already put to use. One night in December 1904, the steamer picked up 32 fishermen near Harboøre, who were unable to reach the shore because of an eastern storm. With the fishermen safely aboard, the steamer remained in place to wait for fairer weather, and in the morning, the fishermen could board their boats again – even bringing their catch ashore. The fishermen were full of praise for Vesterhavet’s crew, who had served them coffee, boiled potatoes and fish as they waited.
A new rescue ship of the same name
In 1945, the old rescue steamer was replaced by a new rescue ship that took over the name Vestkysten. The new Vestkysten was a very seaworthy vessel, built to tow and tug other vessels to the shore. During the great storm of November 1981, the ship was called out, but could not make it back to shore as the storm had shifted the several-tonne cement block that kept its approach buoy in place at the mouth of the Thyborøn Channel. It would be too dangerous to try and find the fairway in such bad weather. Vestkysten’s crew remained calm and waited for the wind to drop, allowing them to enter the port safely.
Rescue vessel Vestkysten helps a fishing boat
It is the summer of 1974, about 15 miles west of Hanstholm. The rescue vessel Vestkysten returns to Thyborøn towing a fishing boat from Hirtshals with a damaged engine. Whilst being towed, the fishing boat was rammed by a Finnish tanker, severing its entire stern and sinking it. This explains why the cutter is so crooked in the water. On the deck of Vestkysten are: Chief Officer Sonnichsen, Ship’s Mate Mose Hansen, sailor Ole Stie Olesen and cook Herman Olesen. Behind them, the Thyborøn lifeboat.
In 1987, the third rescue ship bearing the name Vestkysten came to Thyborøn. The new ship was not only to perform rescue missions, but also conduct fisheries control in the North Sea. It took some getting used to for the crew members to see themselves as monitors of the fishermen who had previously considered them to be rescuers. Today, control tasks dominate the schedule, but rescue tasks have the highest priority. Vestkysten must always be ready to move if a ship is in distress.
Witness accounts from a rescue
On October 30, 2000, a German coaster was in distress far into the North Sea during a storm. The rescue vessel Vestkysten came to the assistance of the coaster "Faros", but in trying to rescue the seven distressed seamen, one of the rescuers perished. See the Danish Radio Services documentary "M/S Faro" for eyewitness accounts of the rescue operation.