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Article: Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

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    Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

    5 Comments by Brian Probetts (Site Admin) Published on 6th November 2018 09:28 AM
    Pool fisher disaster, night of 5/6 november 1979

    Today and tomorrow is the 39th Anniversary of the sinking of the `MV POOL FISHER` with the loss of 12 members of the crew and the Ch.Engineers wife................................

    Mv Pool fisher



    Been Posted before but it is just a reminder of Seafarers dying just doing their job......................................
    Sinking of the POOL FISHER

    November 1979 the POOL FISHER, owned by James Fisher & sons of Barrow, was overwhelmed by heavy seas off the Isle of Wight, 13 people died, 12 crew and the Chief Engineers wife, Mrs Doris Carvil. Two young lads survived. I was a witness in this event and had to go to the Inquest and then to the Admiralty Court of Inquiry, A very sad case and a long story.

    On the 3rd of November 1979, in Hamburg the cargo ship, POOL FISHER, owned by `James Fisher of Barrow,` completed loading a cargo of Potash, destination Runcorn on the Manchester Ship Canal.

    The bulk cargo had been loaded in the two hatches in a pyramid, it was not trimmed level.

    On the way out of the dock she hit the quay, stem on quite heavily.

    She then sailed across the North Sea, meeting heavy weather all the way and shipping seas over the foredeck. The canvas hatch covers at No. 1 hatch came adrift a couple of times, the sailors having to go out on deck to batten down the canvas and hammer the wedges into the cleats.

    Meanwhile I was Second Mate on the tanker, ESSO PENZANCE, we sailed from the Fawley Refinery, on the Solent on the 5th of November 1979, bound up the Channel for Immingham on the Humber.

    At 11pm that night I was the Navigator on watch and was 11 miles South of Brighton, my watch keeping AB was Paddy Colgan from Dublin.

    The weather was rough, winds of 40 kts from the West and a big heavy sea running.

    Ahead of me I saw the lights of a vessel approaching on a reciprocal course, it was swinging to port then to starboard, showing alternative red and green side lights. I called him on the VHF radio, confirmed our identities, and asked him if he had a problem, the Second Mate of the Pool Fisher, replied that he had problems with his steering. I told him to carry on with his course and I would move to the South of him and give him plenty of sea room.

    As he got abeam of me, half a mile to the north, he was outlined against the shore lights of Brighton and lit up by a full moon. His fore deck was mostly submerged and his stern was high in the water, I could see his propeller and rudder quite clearly.

    I called him back and told him that was why he had problems with his steering, he was well down by the head. He said he was OK and would carry on.

    On the morning of the 6th of November, I went on the bridge again at 0745, the Radio Officer, Raymond Smith,[ our new Member,] told me he had been up most of the night on a Mayday Relay call with some ship called `Pool Fisher`, there was a big search for her, the Royal Navy ships co-ordinated by HMS CARDIFF and helicopters were searching for her 25 miles South of the Isle of Wight. No position had been given.

    The Radio Officer said that Niton Radio, on the Isle of Wight, had heard a brief call, saying `"This is Pool Fisher, we are going over now,`" then silence. This call was not on the Channel 16 VHF, it was on channel 28 so no one would have heard it. No position was given, she could have been anywhere. So the Searchers had no idea of where to search.

    I found the time of the Mayday around 0550 and run a course line, time and distance from 11 pm when I saw her and that put her around six miles SSW of the Needles on the Isle of Wight.

    After receiving the information the search pattern was brought up to the position I gave and they found wreckage and in that were two young lads Mark Fooks, 17, and Don Crane ,20, clinging to hatch boards in seas up to 48 feet high or 15 metres,. They were on the point of death with hypothermia, the winch man John Taylor, from the RN helicopter, Piloted by Bill Sample , who was later killed on another rescue mission.
    went down and sent them up and took them to Haslar Hospital near Portsmouth, where they were treated, three other bodies, including the Chief Engineer`s wife, were recovered and taken ashore.

    We carried on to Immingham, when we arrived at the oil berth it was full of Reporters and TV Camera men. Two big men walked up the gangway, and kept every one else away. They took me to my cabin, they were `Esso Security,` Not your usual Security, These guys could frighten anyone, they were heavies.

    I was questioned and then warned not to speak to anyone, `Or else`.
    I said `Or else what` He replied, `Just or else.` with an icy stare.
    . I never forgot those men.

    Also Captain Vale, Surveyor, of the Board of Trade came on board and interviewed me. He took the statement and sketches that I had made of the event. He also examined me for my Masters Ticket the following June.

    We did our discharge and then sailed back to Fawley.

    When we had moored alongside, two Policemen, Adrian Walder and Sergeant Murray arrived on board and wanted to question me about the events of that night, 5th of November.

    I gave them a statement of the events including sketches of the attitude of the Pool Fisher when she passed us, down by the head and that was that.

    .Amazing what the News papers say,, One head line said, "Death ship capsizes after a near collision with Tanker",

    The nearest we ever got to each other was Half a mile abeam on reciprocal courses..

    In February 1980, I was in College at Fleetwood, doing my Masters Ticket, when a man from the Treasury Solicitor turned up at my door and gave me a summons to attend the Inquest on the 13 dead off the Pool Fisher.

    I drove down to Gosport and checked into a hotel for a few days,

    I met the relatives of the dead, the two lads who survived and had a drink with them in a bar. It was very sad; the widows were telling me that they were summoned to appear at the Coroners Court. They asked for assistance with fares and hotel bills, the wages had been stopped on the day the ship went down nearly three months before. Fishers of Barrow would not give them any assistance and they were really suffering. One widow told me she had to go round to her neighbours and beg for money to pay for her train fare from Birkenhead to Gosport. When they got to Gosport at night they had to go knocking on doors trying to find somewhere to sleep that night.

    At the Inquest, on the 20th of February 1980, I had to stand in the witness box and was sworn in to give evidence of what I saw and about the VHF phone call conversation I had with the late 2nd Mate. Don Crane also confirmed the conversation as he was in the wheel house at the time.

    In a Coroners Court the Jury is allowed to question the witnesses. Sometimes difficult giving evidence in using nautical terms and they do not understand what they are.

    The worst part of it was when the Pathologist gave evidence on what he had done to the three bodies that had been recovered. It was quite gruesome the way he described removing the brain, the lungs, the heart, the liver and kidneys and so on. These were measured, examined and weighed. It was like reading out a shopping list. The widows and the 17 year old son of Mrs Carvill had to listen to all this. It must have been horrifying for them.

    When the Court was over, the Jury recorded at the Coroners advice an Open Verdict.

    The evidence the two lads gave were as follows.

    Don Crane, age 21, of Moreton, Merseyside, said, When they left Hamburg with a cargo of Potash, he thought the ship was down by the head. When he was on watch he took over the steering and the ship was not handling well.

    At 4am on the morning of 6th November 1979, the Bosun, Mr Terence Morgan of Wallasey, said, "Get on deck quick, the ship is going down.".

    Mark Fooks and I dashed up the Alleyway and I found my way out into the sea. I went under and when I surfaced I could see the rear section of the ship sticking up out of the water I swam away and turned and could only see lights below the water.?

    He told the Court that he had heard the 2nd Mate talking to the Esso Penzance which was passing in the opposite direction.

    Mark Fooks the other survivor told the Court, the Pool Fisher had completely keeled over in the gale force winds. He climbed out onto the side of the vessel where people were trying to coax Mrs Doris Carvill, aged 55, into the sea.

    He said he went towards her looking for a life raft. Mrs Carvill panicked, she clung to him, she said "Dont leave me, dont leave me, stay with me."

    Mrs Carvill`s body was one of three recovered from the sea by HMS Cardiff, A Seaman from her told me they found her and another man in the sea, they were both dead and in an "embrace". a very sad scene, Ten crew men were never found including her husband, Mr Eric Carvill, Chief Engineer.

    Mark Fooks then said he was washed overboard into the sea. Amid all the wreckage he found himself clinging to some hatch boards with some other crew members, but slowly as time went on they slid off and disappeared one at a time, probably from hypothermia. Only Mark and Don Crane stayed afloat clinging to the hatch board.

    The Bosun, Terence Morgan should have been commended for bravery, but it was never mentioned. He was on deck with his life jacket on and when he realized the two lads were missing he went down into the accommodation to save them but but was lost..

    Commander Doctor Frances Golden, RN, of the Institute of Survival Medicine, said, "The two lads who survived were exceptional, they clung to wreckage for over five hours in gale force winds amongst waves 40 feet high.

    It was probably their age and fitness that helped them to survive".

    Coroner Mr. Michael Baker, recorded open verdicts on the twelve men and one woman who died in the sinking.

    After we came out of Court, the widows and the two lads and I went into a nearby pub, for a well needed drink. It had been a harrowing experience for everyone.

    The following day we all went home.


    In November of that year 1980, I was summoned by The Treasury Solicitor

    to appear before the Court of Inquiry, to give evidence, in the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool.

    The Court was in session from 24th of November to 9th of December 1980 before Mr G.R.A. Darling, RD, QC, assisted by Captain C.W. Leadbetter, RD, RNR. Ret`d., Captain P J Pembridge and Sq. Ldr. CF Trigg, Msc. [Eng]Ceng, FI MechE. Into the circumstances attending the loss of the motor vessel POOL FISHER in the English Channel with the loss of 13 lives on 6th November 1979.

    The result was,????.

    The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above mentioned shipping casualty was probably caused by the entry of water into the fore part of POOL FISHER`s hold following a failure of the aftermost section of the hatch boards on her No 1 hatch, which failure was caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of her Master, John Maclaren Stewart and her Mate, Francis William Cooper.

    QUOTE. From the report.

    About 1300 on 3rd November 1979, Pool Fisher sailed from Hamburg with a cargo of 1,250 tons of muriate of potash, in bulk, bound for Runcorn on the Manchester Ship Canal. The weather across the North Sea was force 7 with a gale warning in force. On the morning of the 5th of November the tarpaulin on the after end of No. 1 hatch had to be re-secured.

    There could have been some increase in the forward trim with water entering her chain locker and focsle space, through the spurling pipes, or with the cargo settling forward with the pitching, or with water entering the hold when No 1 hatch had to be re-secured. Also some change to the trim by the consumption of fuel and stores.

    At 2250 on the night of the 5th of November1979, the tanker, ESSO PENZANCE sighted Pool Fisher about 11 miles south of Brighton. She was steering erratically. That is consistent with the evidence of the survivors as to her steering. At that time the wind was westerly 8 to 9.

    At 0547 on 6th of November 1979 Niton Radio received a Mayday call on VHF Channel 28 from POOL FISHER in the following terms;

    Mayday anyone hear me, Mayday going over, position South west of St Catherine`s Point.?

    Niton Radio requested a better position but received no rely. The Mayday was immediately relayed on Channel 16 and 2182 kHz.

    The watch keepers on the Pool Fisher were the Mate, the Bosun, Terence Morgan and Able Seaman Throup, None of them survived, so it is not possible to find precisely what happened.

    The two survivors Don Crane and Mark Fooks were asleep in their cabin when they were woken by the Bosun who was wearing a life jacket and shouted, "Quick lads, get up on deck, she`s going down by the head".

    Both with other members of the crew followed the Bosun, it was very difficult due to the steep list to port. When they reached the cross alleyway on the starboard side, the Bosun shouted "She`s going". Don Crane was swept into the sea, Mark Fooks who was ahead of Don managed to make his way to the boat deck. He said the Bosun got out as the ship went onto her port beam.

    He then saw the Second Engineer, the Chief and Mrs Carvill, all wearing life jackets. He climbed up the starboard side and saw A.B. MacDonald, then he was washed over the side.

    Don Crane and Mark Fooks were not wearing life jackets they were fighting for survival in the sea with the help of the hatch boards. The Fleet Air Arm helicopter crews were complimented on their efforts in saving the lives of Don and Mark, there were no other survivors.

    The cause of the capsize and sinking of the Pool Fisher was probably caused by the lack of, or insufficient number of locking bars or locking wires on the No 1 hatch, combined with her low free board. When No.1 hatch board were stripped off by the sea, the forward draught was rapidly increased by the rapid entry of water into the hold. The free surface effect of the water caused her to list to port on to her beam ends and to sink by the head.

    The Master is responsible for his vessel in all respects and at all times. The Mate is particularly responsible for the battening down of hatches.

    The sinking occurred, as we find, the hatches were not battened down properly.

    With great reluctance therefore in view of the high esteem in which the Officers concerned were held and because they could not come before the Court to defend themselves, we nevertheless feel bound to find thet they were responsible for the failure, which led to the loss of the Pool Fisher. Although we cannot but be sympathetic to men, whose arduous way of life and demanding schedule of voyages may leave then tired from time to time we do not feel that so fundamental a matter as failure to batten down for sea cannot be excused.

    The advice given in M. Notice No.666 remains as valid today , as it always was and just as vital to the safety of life at sea.?

    That was taken from the report of the Court.

    I was questioned at great detail by the various QC representing the DTI, the Ship owner, the QC representing the Captain and so on.

    Some of the questions asked made me feel as if it was all my fault, I had a hard time trying to defend myself against some of the questions, especially from the QC representing the Company, James Fisher and Son.
    Their Solicitor asked me “Isnt it the law of the sea that you help other seafarers in difficulty?” I replied “ Yes” he says, “Then why didn’t you go along side the Pool Fisher and take off the crew?”.

    What a stupid question. A loaded tanker, seas 48 feet, or 15 metres, in height going alongside another ship bouncing up and down in those stormy seas.!!!

    I had 32 pages full of questions 310 in all, asked over two days. A quite stressful time.

    I found the treatment of the bereaved families by James Fisher and Son, the ship owner was severely lacking.

    One day I was in the hotel lobby, a young lady walked in and asked me if there was a Court of Inquiry going on here.

    I said yes and that I was involved. She told me that her husband had died on the Pool Fisher. No one had informed her that there was an Inquiry.

    She had read about it in the newspaper and had travelled to Blackpool from Bangor in North Wales to see what was happening as she could not get any information from anyone.

    I took her in the bar to sit down and she told me her story.

    When the ship went down the pay was stopped that day. She still had not received the wages he had earned before he had died. They had received Nothing.

    She and her husband were buying a three bed roomed house overlooking the Menai Straits in North Wales. Now she could not pay the mortgage and so was evicted from her home, she had just given birth to her third baby just after the ship went down. They were dumped into a two bed Council flat.

    Then three weeks ago, on the anniversary of the disaster, 6th of November 1980, her husband’s Mother had taken a train down to Bournemouth, which overlooks the site of the sinking and then walked into the sea and was drowned. I was nearly in tears listening to her story, so sad.

    I asked her if she had eaten that day, she replied no. so I then took her to the Restaurant, I was on expenses paid for by the Treasury Solicitor, I ordered an expensive wine and the best dinner for two, which we both enjoyed, a lovely lady who did not deserve the treatment off the ship owner and other authorities. Even though I was confined to the Hotel for the duration, I put her in my car and drove her to Preston rail station to get her train to Bangor. It was the least I could do for her.

    The AB on watch with me on the Esso Penzance, Paddy Colgan was flown over from Dublin to give evidence. It was good to see him again as we were good mates at the time, a very funny man always laughing. He was now a taxi driver in Dublin.

    He made the Court laugh when Mr Darling asked him if the Pool Fisher was on a reciprocal course to our ship. He replied, "I dont know about that Sor, but we wuz goin` one way and she was goin` the other".

    The two lads, Don and Mark, were also good company in the evenings, we would meet up in the bar, Mark had his mother with him, and they all had a good sense of humour.

    I got to know Mark and Don quite well during that time, They both thanked me for informing Niton Radio of their position as the search was concentrated 25 miles away and they would have surely died if the search had not been brought up to their position.

    Mark was also lucky on another occasion, after the sinking of the Pool Fisher, he went to the Shipping Pool in Liverpool and told them he wanted a Big Ship as the small ones sank under him.

    They gave him a job on a 150, 000 ton bulk carrier by the name of `DERBYSHIRE`, he flew out to Yokohama in Japan to await her arrival. She did not arrive, she went down in a typhoon with all hands, 44 people died. After a week in a hotel there Mark was flown home again.

    At the end of the Inquiry, many people had various misgivings about the verdict.

    In many discussions afterwards, various theories were discussed.

    Such as the water may have entered the hold from another way rather than through the hatch cover. She did hit the quay wall heavily in Hamburg and in a previous incident during 1979 had sprung the rivets, in No.1 hold, this being welded up at the time.

    When she sailed she had a freeboard of only 1.7 feet on he forward well deck.

    Some of the securing cleats were defective and this could be the cause of the wedges being forced out by the weather. Not all the required number of locking bars or wires were fitted to the hatch. Were there enough of these on board?

    Don Crane had said he thought the ship was down by the head when she sailed from Hamburg, she was definitely down by the head when I saw her seven hours before she capsized.

    There was a telephone call from the Master to the Company the day before she sank. The Coroner asked the Managing Director of James Fisher & Son,

    If they kept records of all the phone calls from their Ship Masters, he replied Yes. The Coroner then asked him if he had a record of this phone call. The Managing Director, replied No.

    So there was speculation among some people, What if the Captain had said he had problems with the ship and could he call into another port for shelter while they sorted out their problems with the trim or hatch covers and the Ship owner said No, get to Runcorn as soon as possible. He would therefore carry on and then capsize. ????

    But this is only guessing and therefore cannot be used in a sensible argument.

    Today the POOL FISHER lies in 40 metres of water, upside down with her bows broken off and standing on end. 6.7 miles SSW of St. Catherines Point.

    I received an email from Mark`s sister Jackie, she told me that Mark later took up scuba diving and went back to dive on the Pool Fisher, Now that took some courage.

    Don Crane did one more trip to sea he married and went to Vancouver and is now a successful man there.


    My name is John Taylor.

    I was the rescue diver that entered the sea to recover Donald Crane and

    Mark Fooks approx' 5 hours after the sinking of the Pool Fisher
    . Due to the

    sea conditions I elected to jump from the Helicopter with full diving

    equipment on in order to appear behind both survivors. They were holding

    onto what looked like wreckage but probably not from the Pool Fisher? There

    had been another ship sink a few days earlier approximately 25 miles to the

    west, Aeolian Sky (I have probably miss-spelled the name). The Aeolian Sky

    produced a considerable amount of flotsam including inflatable life rafts of

    which I entered the sea to check inside just before we located Donald and

    Mark clinging onto what looked like a 12 foot (approximately) railway

    sleeper. I surfaced between both survivors who were both singing Liverpool

    football songs. (the roar of the gale was quite considerable, wind speeds

    reaching force '10' and a 10m to 12m swell). Both lads were just wearing

    underpants and nothing else, the sea temperature was either 11c or 13c?

    Hence, a remarkable survival time. Mark was semi-delirious, he appeared to
    not really know what was happening, I left Don clinging to the wreckage and

    recovered Mark first to the Helicopter, Piloted by the late Bill Sample (a

    very good friend who later died in an aircraft crash). Don was taken up

    second. We flew both survivors to the Haslar Hospital, Gosport. Both Don

    and Mark paid me a visit at the search and rescue squadron at HMS Deadalus

    two days later to thank the helicopter crew for their rescue. I hope this

    little snippet of info gets to Brian the author of the article. Regards
    John Taylor.

    .................................................. .................................................. ....................................
    A VERY SAD STORY, and what shipowners think of their crews and dependents,

    - - - Updated - - -

    I still contact Don Crane and Mark Fooks on the anniversary of the disaster,
    Don is a member on here, by the name of Twentyrow. He could tell it as it happened s hew was on the ship when she went down and then saved by the helicopter.

    When I found out that she had radioed she was going down , I asked our Radio Officer to contact Niton Radio and give then a position.
    He said he would have to get the Captains permission to do so,
    then the Chief Mate told me to FORGET it, do not get involved, I was horrified
    I called the Captain to the Bridge from his breakfast, He too told me to Forget it, do not get involved, meanwhile men were in the water, and dying, So I demanded that he allowed Sparky to send the information.,
    He then told me he would contact the Head Office of ESSO first,

    I later got a copy of the Lloyds List and in the casualty section it said, "At 0915 a message was received giving a position to Niton ,"
    I had been trying to get the information to them for 90 minutes,
    So did that increase the Death Toll??

    Don Crane,

    Submitted by Stephen Riley

    Hi Brian,
    my friend phoned Fishers and they never phoned him back, flag still not at half mast, can you put this at bottom of article that Fishers did not fly flag at half mast


    Last edited by Brian Probetts (Site Admin); 6th November 2018 at 11:20 AM.
    Brian Probetts (site admin)

  2. Total Comments 5


  3. #2
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    I live in Broadstairs in Kent, UK.
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    Default Re: Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

    I believe this date corresponds with a sad event that I witnessed a few months after this sinking as I was Q.M. on the bridge of the MV "Vortigern" en-route from Holyhead to Dover following a refit. We were close to the Isle of Wight when we sighted something floating so went closer to investigate. We were shocked to see it was a body and notified the Coastguard and RNLI and stood by until they arrived. We were later told it may have been from the sinking of the "Pool Fisher" but it was never confirmed to us. It was a sight I'll never forget. R.I.P. to them all.

    Phil Hughes.

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    Default Re: Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

    I was on leave from the Serenia (paid off Teesport) prior to joining the Ervillia in Singapore when I heard the tragic news of the ship the poolfisher going down,I trained at Gravesend Sea Training College (Sea School) with Mark Fooks, that night I Telephoned his parents house to get an update after seeing the news broadcast on the TV news, i remember hanging off every word that was being spoken by the news broadcaster.
    I just could not believe it listening to Mark talking from his Hospital bed about what happened.I just remember his words that he spoke at the time when he and remaining crew we're in the sea they were talking about football (which he loves so much) and all the sudden he turned around to talk to one of the other crewmember(s) then turning back again to carry on conversation with the remaining survivors and they were no longer there,his words we're "it seemed like minutes" when it most probably was hours.

    It must have been a terrible ordeal to go through and awful loss of life. I have spoken to him all in these years since 1979 when left Gravesend.
    Last edited by David John Foy; 7th November 2018 at 09:12 AM.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

    When I went to the Police Station in Gosport to report in for the Inquest, two and a half months after the sinking, I was told that the remains of three bodies had been picked up but totally unrecognisable after all that time in the sea. They had started to disintegrate, The Police didn't know who they were or from . No DNA in those days, so they were cremated. I believe. They didn't want to announce it as it would have raised false hopes for the bereaved.

    I was with Mark and Don, his fellow survivor, only two survived, both at the inquest and for three weeks in the Hotel at the Court of Inquiry.
    Both good humoured lads,
    Mark later dived on the wreck of the Pool Fisher, in 40 metres of water. He now lives in Essex [?] Don is now in Canada.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

    What a shameful disregard of human life, the bosses at Fishers were quite safe at home whilst all this was going on, not one of them it seems had a shred of compassion for the crew of this ship. Thank God the Second mate of the Esso tanker had the courage to speak out about all the events that took place that terrible night. I spent time on the coast myself and know that the waters around Britain can be as bad as anywhere on Earth. RIP to the lost souls.

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    Default Re: Pool Fisher Disaster, night of 5/6 November 1979

    #5. I may be speaking out of turn here, but about that year we were recovering a naval helicopter off the sea bed in the English Channel area. I know one body slid out of the helicopter and disappeared into the waters and at that specific time our own divers did not recover. The other helicopter which this one was in mid air collission with donít know if there were any no recovered bodies from as was on a need to know basis as most military deaths are. For the sake of the families both seamen and naval personel I hope the bodies were identified correctly. JS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 8th November 2018 at 01:37 AM.

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