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A message in wreaths at the Titanic Memorial in Belfast's City Hall grounds

A message in wreaths at the Titanic Memorial in Belfast's City Hall grounds

A message in wreaths at the Titanic Memorial in Belfast's City Hall grounds

The onboard designer of the doomed Titanic liner has been defended by his great nephew after a book claimed the distress signal was delayed.

John Andrews said a 47-minute gap between the steamship hitting an iceberg and the first calls for help was due to the time it took Thomas Andrews to assess the damage.

He added there may have been hopes of saving the ship after the largest passenger boat in the world hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in April 1912. A total of 1,517 people lost their lives when the ship sank four days into its maiden voyage, early on April 15, 1912.

Mr Andrews spoke out as relatives of the victims gathered at Belfast City Hall to mark the 98th anniversary of the sinking.

Mr Andrews said: "He (Thomas Andrews) had to walk around the ship and his judgment was that it could not stay afloat. As far as I know he gave them an approximate time and he was right. I suppose it took him a certain time to walk around the ship, maybe they thought that there was some hope that the ship would not sink."

According to author Tim Maltin, time was spent assessing the damage from the iceberg when nearby ships could have been steaming to the rescue. His book - 101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic... But Didn't - claims no alert was sent from the ailing vessel for 47 minutes because the ships' officers wanted to keep the disaster quiet.

Two wreaths were laid at the statue marking the deaths and a minute's silence held.

The Rev Ian Gilpin, chaplain to the Belfast Titanic Society, led the prayers and paid tribute to the victims.

"We remember those whose names are heroism inscribed (on the memorial). When disaster struck they thought not of themselves but of others. Their conduct was selfless not selfish, without exception," he said. "They gave their lives that others might be saved without exception, each was heroic onto death. There is a sense of (relatives') pride, a pride born of a realisation of how nobly their forebears conducted themselves as their lives drew to a close."

Marjorie Wilson, whose grandfather William McQuillan was a stoker of the boiler, said he had agreed to take a colleague's place at the last minute. Mr McQuillan is buried in Halifax, Canada. "I come to the memorial service every year," she said.

PA