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Cramlington production firm captures sinking of Portuguese naval vessel

Explosions rip through the Afonso Cerqueira as she begins to sink.
Explosions rip through the Afonso Cerqueira as she begins to sink.

A video production company has been given unique access by the Portuguese Navy to film the sinking of one of its warships to create an artificial reef.

Cramlington-based Newsmaker PR was commissioned by Chemring Energetics UK, which supplied the special explosive required to cut holes in the ship’s hull, to capture the last days of the corvette Afonso Cerqueira.

Andrew Lambert, of Newsmaker PR.

Andrew Lambert, of Newsmaker PR.

She had been retired from service in 2015 and became the sixth Portuguese naval vessel to be re-used as an artificial reef, both to attract visiting divers and local marine life off Madeira.

The project to acquire and strip the Afonso Cerqueira of equipment, de-contaminate and then sink her cost the Regional Government of Madeira 500,000 Euros.

The Portuguese Navy’s Chief of Staff Admiral António Mendes Calado, said: “It’s a very beautiful way to end our ships.

“They continue, even after being disarmed, to serve as sources of life in our seas.”

The Newsmaker team – producer Andrew Lambert and cameraman Ross Marshall – were taken on the Afonso Cerqueira after she had been towed into position 400 metres offshore and 24 hours before the operation to sink her.

Andrew said: “There was a lot of interest from Portuguese TV and it was a big news event.

“There was a big exclusion zone on land and sea, but we found a great spot and Ross’ pictures are very dramatic.

“The on-board video, particularly from inside the bridge, is amazing.”

On board they were allowed to film the team of Portuguese Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal divers as they fitted 16 charges of the explosive SABREX.

The head of the project Paolo Oliveira, from Madeira’s Institute of Forestry and Marine Conservation, said: “With this technique it’s very quick, it’s very precise.

“The boat goes exactly where we want so I think it’s the best choice, and also with little impact on the ecosystem around it.”

The Afonso Cerqueira took less than 100 seconds to sink from the start of the first explosion. Mini waterproof cameras had been fitted throughout the ship to record her final moments. They were recovered by Portuguese Navy divers once the Afonso Cerqueira had settled on the seabed 30 metres below the surface.

Chris Smith, of Chemring Energetics UK, said: “It was a privilege for Chemring to play a key role in a project like this where such a diverse range of expertise was brought together to achieve an ultimate act of recycling.”

Newsmaker was started in 2010 by Andrew Lambert, who is a former BBC news editor. The company works closely with 3 Point Media in Darlington, which post-produced the Madeira video.

Watch the story of the sinking of the Afonso Cerqueira at www.newsmakerpr.co.uk/warshipsinkingmadeira/