Part seven: RNI under attack - again!

After an erratic and ultimately unsuccessful first year on air, RNI was off to a flying start this time. It looked like 1971 was going to be a whole lot smoother. The Dutch service was winning fans and advertisers in Holland and the English programmes had resumed where they has left off (although with a more Eurocentric music policy).
However the station was still not going to be allowed a quiet life. In May it was back in the newspapers following a terrifying and dramatic attack on the ship.

Guardian cutting

Click on the cutting from ‘The Guardian’, above, to see how the press reported the firebomb attack on the station.

During the evening of Saturday 15th May three men left Scheveningen harbour in a rubber dinghy and set sail for the Mebo II. Three hours later they tied up alongside the radio ship and two of them silently climbed aboard. The ship's crew was engrossed in a football match on television and nobody noticed the men placing explosives on a pipeline leading to a 250 gallon oil tank. The fuse of oil-soaked rags was lit and the men made a rapid getaway.
At 10.50pm Alan West was on the air when, in the middle of a record, the ship was rocked by an almighty explosion. A fire immediately flared up. While the crew attempted to fight the blaze, Alan stayed on the air, broadcasting “Mayday” distress calls to his listeners all over Europe, many of whom telephoned the police and coastguards.

click to hear audio Crispian St.John and Alan West with their Dutch colleague Joost Verhoeven send out a ‘Mayday’ call and appeal for help (duration 2 minutes 48 second)
click to hear audio Alan West continues to appeal for help and prematurely announces they are abandoning ship (duration 3 minutes 33 second)
click to hear audio Dave Rogers and Alan West. This time they really are abandoning ship. This and the previous clips are edited from a recording made available by The Offshore Radio Archive (duration 4 minutes 7 second)

Fire-fighting boats set off from land but by 11.40 the flames were too intense and transmissions ended as the disc-jockeys and crew abandoned ship, leaving just the Captain and two engineers on board.

Dutch television footage of the fire courtesy of YouTube.

By 2.30am the fire had been extinguished. Nobody had been hurt, the Mebo II had been saved and, although the stern of the ship had been damaged and the bridge destroyed, she was still sea-worthy. Some £30,000 of damage had been done but the broadcasting equipment was intact and RNI was able to return to the air.

click to hear audio It is the following day and the RNI fire is big news. Clips from BBC Radio Four's one o'clock news and the early evening bulletin on BBC-1 television (duration 2 minute 47 second)
click to hear audio On RNI Crispian St.John brings listeners up to date in the 4pm news bulletin (duration 1 minute 44 second)
click to hear audio In his evening show on 16th May Alan West invites the Captain, crew, engineers and his Dutch colleague to send messages to their family and friends - and there is a birthday celebration too (duration 6 minutes 4 second)
click to hear audio The English DJs send their messages. This and the previous two clips are courtesy of Our thanks to Jim Nantz and Ray Robinson (duration 6 minutes 57 second)

The disc-jockeys had heard the sound of an outboard motor just before the explosion and the police began investigating. Sure enough, they quickly discovered that the explosion had been deliberate and they found a destroyed dinghy on an isolated beach, just some four and a half miles from the ship. The next afternoon the police announced the arrest of three men, two of whom had admitted their guilt.
On Monday night the police reported that they had arrested a fourth man, Norbert Jurgens, advertising manager of the rival Radio Veronica, who they believed was behind the plot. At the same time the third man held by the police admitted his part in the raid. The following day came an even more amazing revelation. Hendrik ‘Bul’ Verwey, the managing director of Veronica, admitted that he had paid for the attack on his rival. He said “My orders were to do it without any risk to life ...... I can declare I never condone violence. We are not gangsters.”
Gangster or not, Mr Verwey was arrested and later in the year all five men were sentenced to twelve month jail sentences for their parts in the raid. In the meantime, on 27th May, the Dutch Government announced that it was going to ratify the Strasbourg Convention. The pirates' days were numbered.
Despite this threat of future legislation, RNI was still broadcasting and the repair work continued. On 14th July the station resumed transmissions on the 31 metre short wave band at 9935 kHz. On Sunday 18th it also reintroduced the World Service which operated in English every Sunday during the day on the two short-wave frequencies.

click to hear audio Robb Eden on the RNI World Service from 26th September 1971. This is part of a longer recording available from Our thanks to Jim Nantz and Ray Robinson (duration 4 minutes 13 second)
6.00am Peter Holland
8.30 “Factory Call”
10.00 Joost Verhoeven
12.00pm Joost den Draayer
2.00 Ferry Maat
4.00 “Driemaster”
(Friday 3.45-4.00 “Football Weekend”)
6.00 Mark Stuart
8.00 Mike Ross
10.00 Crispian St.John
12.00am Dave Rogers
3.00 closedown
6.00am Dutch programmes
6.00pm “Drive Time” (Robb Eden)
8.00 “Target Ten” (Mike Ross)
10.00 “Swinging Europe” (Paul May)
12.00am “Northsea by Night” (Dave Rogers)
3.00 closedown

During August the station's two senior British presenters, Stevi Merike and Alan West, left, their contacts not renewed. Relations between the DJs and the administration had sometimes been fraught and this was apparent again the following week. Two former DJs, Tony Allan and Andy Archer, returned to the station but, after just four days, were fired. In an interview with the Dutch press, Andy was quoted as saying that RNI was broadcasting coded messages to a Communist power. This was, of course, vehemently denied by the owners. The Dutch Minister of Home Affairs, Mr M Geertsema, did confirm that the intelligence service had picked up coded broadcasts, although he could not divulge whether they were on behalf of a foreign power or not. Andy Archer has since retracted his more dramatic claims but the accusations did add spice to an already intriguing mystery. There was still so much that was not known about RNI and its owners.

Back to part six.
On to part eight.

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