DREW SUTTON LEANS OVER THE BOW of the dredger looking down, camera poised to shoot. He has seen this bow once before, 20 years ago. He looked up at it then from the deck of a party boat full of bright young things.
Seconds later the party boat was sinking, ripped open and rolled over by this same dredger. For Drew Sutton was a passenger on the Marchioness, and now he lies atop the wreck of the Bowbelle, the ship that killed 51 people that dreadful night on the Thames in 1989. Drew is one of the survivors.  
As the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Marchioness loomed, Drew, a professional film-maker, felt compelled to visit the wreck of the Bowbelle.
It was not so much a pilgrimage as a confrontation. Drew intended to make a personal film about his experience.
It has taken me three more years to confront telling the story of the filming. It is really Drew’s story and he has not yet finished his film because, I believe, there are elements he does not, at this time, wish to revisit.
Drew and I are friends, and how could I report our trip objectively How much of the emotions behind the scenes should I reveal What should I leave out
So I wrote clumsy introductions to half-started articles on our return from the wreck, and left them unfinished.

MY INVOLVEMENT IN THE FILM came by chance. I met Drew when he bought a camera housing from me. We were talking, and he mentioned the Marchioness. At first I heard without understanding. I had to ask him to repeat what he’d said.
Sometime later he unexpectedly asked me to join him as his assistant cameraman. I’m really a video hobbyist, and argued that he’d be better off working with a professional cameraman and that there would be no lack of takers, even though this is a speculative venture. Costs and any income from the project, including this article, will be split equally among the team.
Drew countered that he was “comfortable with me”. In the run-up to filming and later on location, I began to understand better Drew’s reasoning.
Filming begins on the Thames. After the disaster the RNLI had been tasked with providing a rescue service on the river. JP Trenque, a top underwater photographer and a good friend, is a volunteer on the capital’s lifeboats.
I introduce him to Drew, and he joins our team as stills photographer.
JP arranges for Drew and I to film along the river from the safety boat he crews. We don RNLI issue oversuits, life-jackets and helmets with intercoms before boarding the high-performance jetboat.
It’s night as we speed towards the Houses of Parliament from the lifeboat station near Tower Pier. The tide is running fast, as it was on the evening Drew was pitched into the blackness.
As the river hits the bridge supports, the accelerating water does not flow by or even angle gently. It literally falls.
I’ve jumped into some pretty fast-moving water, steering to catch the shotline in my hands and swinging around it with the current, but never without a BC and regulator and never, ever, at night. I try to envisage how out of control and afraid I would feel. I can’t.

THE MARCHIONESS WAS CLOSING with Cannon Street Railway Bridge when the Bowbelle collided with her from astern. The flukes of the anchor suspended from the dredger’s bow dug into the Marchioness and ripped through the saloon, condemning many to death as water flooded in, forcing victims into the vessel’s companionways.
But it also opened an escape route for others. Who would survive now became a lottery. As the Bowbelle ploughed on she rolled the smaller vessel over, and the Marchioness sank in under a minute.
Drew fought himself free of the vessel, pulling his then-girlfriend clear as well.
At night the Thames cuts an ebony ribbon through the brightly lit banks of a city still wide awake. Drew recalls passengers on a Routemaster bus waving at the survivors caught in the current.
Drifting with the pair was another man. He sought safety by swimming for a garbage-catcher. Drew shouted not to, but he was ignored. The man drowned, taken underneath the raft by the tide.
Only about half the dead went down with the Marchioness. Getting out of the wreckage prolonged the lives of many of the survivors of the sinking only by minutes.
Drew struggled to keep his girlfriend and himself afloat. He saved both their lives, despite losing consciousness at some point. He recalls coming to when a policeman accidentally trod on his hand, after he had been recovered from the water and left for dead. 

PERHAPS SURPRISINGLY, Drew took up diving after the disaster. He has an interest in an eco-dive centre in a remote part of Tanzania, which required a boat delivery along hundreds of kilometres of jagged coastline. He steered the 7m bow-rider at night, through mountainous seas that all but stood the boat on its stern. It didn’t faze him.
His career as a professional underwater film-maker has also provided high-octane moments with sharks and, his specialist subject, the great whales. Drew is very comfortable around water.
He is a graceful man, educated and intelligent, an artist equally adept at composing a photograph or a music track for his films. Drew is modest about his charitable work for causes about which he is passionate. He has donated whale footage to conservation groups and records testimonies from victims of the Rwanda genocide.
No jobbing film-maker can afford to go completely under the radar, but he does not naturally put himself forward when, perhaps, he could. Drew is commercially aware, however, as his negotiations with the BBC for use of our underwater wreck footage indicates.  
The 24m Marchioness was built in Oxford in 1923. She was pressed into service in WW2 as one of the famous Little Ships of Dunkirk and, later, as part of the Thames Hospital Emergency Transport Service.
In this role she would have ferried the City of London’s injured along the river following bombings by the Luftwaffe.
In peacetime she was converted to a three-decked pleasure craft with bar and restaurant – as she was when hit by the Bowbelle.
The suction sand-dredger, launched from Troon in 1964, was nearly 80m long and dwarfed the Marchioness. After the collision the Bowbelle’s Master did not stop, offer assistance or even put out a Mayday.
A year after the disaster, the Bowbelle was renamed the Bom Rei and sailed into service around the Atlantic island of Madeira. Here she dredged the shallow seabed for sand, until an accident with the dredge in heavy seas sank her during 1996. She came to rest in 32m 

ON LOCATION IN MADEIRA we are quiet as our private hardboat steers a parallel course to the towering sea-cliffs that define the island and out to the dredging grounds. As the anchor is dropped over the wreck, we kit up in near-silence. What little talk there is seems restricted to the technicalities of how we will film the dive.
JP and I are both concerned about how Drew will cope with this first descent, adding to the task-loading of actually recording the dive, but we say nothing to him. I am first down, shooting up to catch the others as they sink hand over hand down the shotline towards the wreck.
I pan with Drew as he settles onto the side deck. He just kneels there. I know I should stop my camera and move to a new position, but I need to catch these first moments. The moment keeps stretching. In the corner of my eye I see JP signal that he needs to move closer to take stills. As gently as I can, so as not to rock my camcorder, I take one hand off the grip and motion him in. I keep filming.
Eventually Drew moves off and I explore the vessel. For a ship that became so internationally notorious, it seems nondescript, a drab wreck.
Visibility is not great – perhaps sand has drifted in from nearby dredging, which Madeira uses for building materials, dulling the light.
Shooting point of views along the foredeck, I move through a shoal of fish but see little else. One of the factors that led to the collision was the Bowbelle’s low command bridge. There was a blind spot leading from the wheelhouse for nearly a quarter-mile into the distance.
I enter the bridge and gaze out, trying – and failing – to imagine myself in command at the moment of impact.
Back on shore, I ask Drew if he wants to see my footage. He seems slightly uninterested, and I sense that he agrees only out of politeness. But once his eye is at the viewfinder he watches the entire side-deck sequence. Later he tells us that he was weeping under water.

OVER TIME, DREW DISCLOSES more information about the sinking. Some of it I decide never to discuss with anyone else. For a while I think what I learned might burden me, but instead I feel privileged and begin to understand how big an emotional leap Drew has made in choosing to take on the wreck.
“It became a living monster in my mind,” he explains. “Malevolent. I could be wide awake walking down Oxford Street and it would suddenly appear in front of me”.
Like other survivors, Drew went through years of therapy to help him come to terms with his experience. Did the sinking change him “By 90%,” he replies.
I want to shoot inside the Bowbelle. I find a doorway and head inside, down a stairwell and past a mezzanine to reach the lower deck.
Silt has risen almost to porthole level as the Bowbelle has settled deep into the sand it once harvested. I enter a confined space, both intrigued and wary. I have no lights and no safety-line. This isn’t smart.
I move very carefully ahead, checking behind regularly for the glow that leads back up the stairwell. I fear the consequences of a silt-out from one clumsy fin-kick, but am drawn in anyway. 
Later, I tell Drew what I did. He chides me gently. Only after the trip do I begin to realise how unthinkingly callous I was, and I regret it. I would never have entered the wreck had I not believed that I would get out, but no diver who dies lost inside an “easy” wreck ever thinks they won’t leave it, except perhaps in the last moments as their air falters, then stops.
But for Drew, who saw people die in the river, another life lost to this cursed ship would haunt him.
My footage is poor, too. Underwater filming demands Zen-like buoyancy control. Sequences must be silky-smooth as the cameraman holds a shot, circles the subject or fins through a companionway.
Drew moves his camera through the water like a human Steadicam. I, to my shame, am having huge problems with stability.
Anticipating that I would need a lot of time under water to repeat shots to make up for my inexperience and inability to “get it in one”, I expect to be routinely decompressing for 15-20 minutes on most dives. I have also planned to penetrate the hull, and before the trip had emailed the dive-centre owner about diving with independent singles, understood that this was OK and took my wing with me.
However, when I started to assemble my kit I was told in no uncertain terms that I could use only one cylinder.
My wing, which is not intended to hold a single, traps air and becomes unstable and hard to dump. I dive largely as originally intended, accepting eroded safety margins, but my camerawork suffers badly.
Ascending the stairwell with my camera running and held in both hands is an example. It’s impossible to vent my BC without taking my hand off the housing and jarring the shot. I’m exhaling as much as I can in an effort to compensate for the expanding air in the wing, but ultimately rely on ending the sequence by headbutting the steel ceiling two decks up.
Even this jerks the camera, and after three or four takes I give it up.
Later some of this footage is used by the BBC – not to document the Bowbelle, but to represent the foundering Marchioness.

WE TAKE A DAY OFF to go tourist-diving. For some reason I’m last in, and snap my mask-strap as I prepare to jump. I curse my luck. Because of weight-saving, I have no diving spares as basic as a mask-strap. The boat-crew are already under water.
I dive anyway, keeping the mask in place alternately by inhaling or by holding onto it. I can still film. I’m experimenting with comms, and JP is on the Aga full-face mask. The signal is good enough for his French accent to come across clearly: “The mask is leaking. I am getting low on air.” With each transmission, he informs me that his air is getting lower.
So what He has a five-point head-harness on his mask; I have no strap at all. 
Drew films giant grouper. It’s a pleasant diversion, and the trip has become a little lighter in mood. We’re working well as a team, and our worries for Drew now seem misplaced. With shaven head and burly build our boat-driver looks like a B-movie henchman and takes to his nickname of Bond Villain 1 with good humour.
The aftermath of the disaster was peppered with recriminations. Hands were removed from 25 of the dead to help with identification.
To the professionals in charge of managing the first confused hours and days, identifying the dead quickly and informing relatives, lovers and friends of their loss was an overriding consideration. But to those bereaved, the act was seen as desecration.  That hands were misplaced and relatives not told of the amputations until after burials and cremations took place only added to their pain and outrage. 
I have dived wrecks abroad on which people have died more recently than on the Marchioness with little thought for the feelings of surviving relatives.
Had the Marchioness remained on the bottom and been diveable, would British divers consider it fair game for pleasure-diving, souvenir-hunting and photo-opportunities
Yet overseas we seem able to dismiss the sensitivities of others as we pay to explore and enjoy their loved one’s graves.  The issues raised cause me to question my own morals, and I’m disturbed by what I learn about myself.
We’re outside HSE jurisdiction and on one dive the plan goes like this: “JP, where are you diving”
“Midships”.
“Drew
“Stern.”
“I’ll go to the bow, then”. Often we’d find each other decompressing on the anchorline, having gone our separate ways on reaching the wreck.
I’m very comfortable with solo-diving, though I miss those independent singles. Another diver often gets in the way of film-making and photography, and by diving apart we can work more efficiently, covering separate areas, each shooting different footage or stills images.
But this can backfire, and it does on me. I pass Drew scratching with his bare fingers at the paint on the side of the shipwreck, but think nothing of it. Years under water has left the name Bom Rei faded but readable. Drew is trying to uncover the ship’s previous name, the one by which she is known the world over.
As flecks of disturbed paint catch the current, the letters begin to take form: Bowbelle.
But by then I was filming something else, and the moment is lost forever. It would have been incredibly poignant.
 
THE FILM-CREW COMMISSIONED BY THE BBC is set to join us for the last day of filming. Love Productions specialises in intimate documentaries that reveal the human condition.
For Marchioness: A Survivor’s Story, director Leo Burley is following the man who organised the party aboard the Marchioness, who must now, as a survivor, live with the consequences of the tragedy – fashion agent and TV presenter Jonathan Phang. Jonathan is talking to other survivors about their memories and the aftermath, and asking the most revealing and difficult of questions: do they blame him Many are people he has not seen in years.
Drew is one of these. Another day’s diving over, we sit in a café overlooking the hotel entrance. Drew expertly rolls cigarettes. Usually a light smoker, tonight he chain-smokes as we await the film-crew, talkative and restless.
A taxi pulls up. People get out, then back in. Then out again. The film unit are taping their own arrival. We call them over. Jonathan and Drew embrace. It’s going to be OK.
Jonathan has not been on a boat since the sinking. Unfortunately the hotel has removed the quayside ladder for cleaning. A big man, he has to jump onto the dive-boat, then tolerate being driven in circles so that the film-crew can show him departing before the boat returns to the quayside so that they can board.
Jonathan and Drew discuss their memories of the wrecking and the aftermath and the feelings they have 20 years on.
Both are media-savvy, and understand how to deliver soundbites that convey the horror of their shared experience in as few words as possible.
They also understand the technical side of film-making. When a nearby dredger drowns out the conversation, they stop and then, minutes later, pick up exactly where they left off, emotions as fresh and raw as they were before.
And this trip is all about emotions. After that first dive we had not talked much on the returning boat.
Wandering into the changing room back at the centre I find Drew. “I think you handled yourself with great dignity, Drew,” I said vacuously.
Wearing only his towel, Drew grabbed me in a bear-hug, and I don’t think we exchanged any further words.

WITH LOVE PRODUCTIONS’ CAMERA trained on Drew and JP, we make our last dive to the Bowbelle. JP hangs a safety tank over the side, which we had only now thought of doing, and gives a very thorough safety briefing, which we hadn’t bothered with before. All of that hits the cutting-room floor.
JP dives first to rig a closed-circuit fishing camera through which Jonathan can see the wreck live. We shoot our last video footage and take our final photographs. And then it’s all over.
Has diving the shipwreck been cathartic for Drew I don’t know. But he tells me: “It’s good to see it on the seabed. It’s as if it has been killed and it is no longer dangerous.
“I would like to think that people will respect and remember everyone who was on board the Marchioness – those who lost their lives that evening, but also the other survivors.
“Some people have not fully recovered from the trauma, and this issue is not fully resolved to this day.”
As we sit in a kerbside restaurant on our last evening together, a car turns onto the drag, stereo blaring.
In a real Outer Limits moment, a Madonna track fills the night. Drew is engrossed in conversation, and I don’t think the tune registers with him. But as I look at the survivor, it does with me.
It’s Die Another Day.

Photography by JP Trenque, Drew Sutton & Steve Warren