Southend Pier has had some great years in its long history, but 1986 and 1987 weren’t among them.

Firstly, a tanker sliced it in half, leaving £2million in damage in its wake. A year later a bus carrying elderly daytrippers ploughed into the bridge leading to the landmark attraction. The miracle was, that in both incidents, nobody was killed.

On Monday June 30, 1986, at around 7pm the sludge carrier Kings Abbey – laden with a cargo full of sugar residue – lost control and steamed into the pier. This would be the ninth time a ship or barge has collided with the world famous iron structure since it had been completed in 1889.

The drama took place just two months since Princess Anne had visited the pier to open the new £1.5million pier trains.

Echo: Sliced in half - you can see the toilet block at the end of the pier hanging over the gapSliced in half - you can see the toilet block at the end of the pier hanging over the gap (Image: Newsquest)

The 640-tonne, 180ft long tanker was one and a half miles off course and it was still daylight when it sliced through the pier “like butter”.

Because it was a Monday evening there were less than 50 people down the end of the pier, some 1.3 miles out to sea.

Some of them were anglers, who were forced to watch helplessly as the vessel came towards them.

“I thought it was going to go round but it just kept on coming,” said one fisherman.

“It didn’t slow down at all, people were running out of the way. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt,” said another.

The Kings Abbey collided with the end of the pier, cutting it in two and crashing into the fishing tackle shop. It ploughed through the gift shop and a toilet block before slamming into the lifeboat slipway.

As it ran aground the vessel shunted back and forth, shaking the lifeboat station violently.

Finally, the tanker floated off, away from the pier, and continued to dump its sugar residue 70 miles offshore.

Echo: ‘Cruel cut’- a headline after the 1986 Southend Pier tanker crash‘Cruel cut’- a headline after the 1986 Southend Pier tanker crash (Image: Newsquest)

About 30 people had been in the Jolly Fisherman’s pub at the end of the pier at the time of the crash.

At least one person was in the gent’s toilets when the drama occurred, though as one eyewitness put it, he didn’t seem too bothered: “I ran out of the pub with the pier head man and watched the ship end up in the boat house. This bloke had just come out of the gent’s and didn’t even seem worried by what was going on,” said the eyewitness.

Lifeboats from other areas had to come to the rescue of the pier-workers and anglers who had been stranded at the end of the pier.

“They were unable to reach safety because of the dirty great gap in the pier,” one coastguard member said.

“The pier is now two bits. The crash damaged the lifeboat house, trapping the lifeboat inside.

“A team of divers went down as a precaution to check for possible casualties around the pier.

“It is a complete mystery how it happened.”

Gift shop assistant Mary O’Callaghan, who was working on the pier at the time said: “Thank god it didn’t happen on Sunday because we were packed out and dozens of people could have been injured or killed.”

The ‘mystery’ of how the crash occurred was soon cleared up when the skipper of the Kings Abbey admitted he’d been asleep at the wheel. He ended up pleading guilty to navigating without due care and attention and was given a £1,000 fine.

After the crash teams of safety experts were called out to assess the damage to the pier.

Around 60ft of the pier was destroyed – 30ft had been swept away and 30ft demolished. Civilian frogmen checked under the piles to ensure there was no irreparable weakness caused by the impact.

For a short while it was feared the pier might have been doomed for good, however, just like so many times in the past, the pier was resurrected.

Echo: Crash, bang, wallop - The Kings Abbey caught in the lifeboat slipway at the end of the pierCrash, bang, wallop - The Kings Abbey caught in the lifeboat slipway at the end of the pier (Image: Newsquest)

A temporary footbridge was constructed between the two halves to allow visitors to still walk to the end. Compensation was later paid to Southend Council for the damage caused.

In 1988 the Kings Abbey was sold and renamed the St Stephen.

In July of 1987 – a year after the unfortunate slicing incident, the pier was back in the national headlines when a bus carrying pensioners on a trip to the seaside, crashed into a bridge leading to the pier in Marine Parade – ripping off the roof and injuring 45 people.

The double decker bus had come from Catford and was carrying elderly people and some children for a day out when the horror smash occurred. At least 40 people were taken to Southend Hospital but nobody was seriously injured Pier staff members were among the first on the scene and helped to calm down the shocked passengers.

Inspector Richard Mitchell, who was among the police officers on the scene, said: “About two thirds of the roof of the bus was torn off and passengers were very shocked. Fortunately, nobody was very badly hurt but they were very, very lucky people indeed. My colleagues and I rendered first aid and looked after the people trill the ambulances came.”

As for the pier, it would, of course, go onto experience devastating fires but ships and boats colliding with the structure have been the most frequent cause of accidents.

In December of 1907 a hay barge named ‘the Robert’ on its way from Rochford to Greenwich, slammed into the pier. The crew, including the captain and his dog, had to jump to safety.

In 1908, a hulk ship named The Marlborough broke free of its mooring during a gale and crashed into the south side of the pier.

The 1986 crash was not the first time the pier had been sliced in half. On January 18, 1921, a 200 tonne ship named the ‘Violette’ crashed into the end of the pier with her engines at full throttle.

The motor-driven, three-masted Violette, was laden with a cargo of 241 tons of iron girders and logs.

Carrying a crew of eight, she was bound from Antwerp to London but had faced increasingly bad weather since she set off.

The accident left a 180ft gap on the west side of the pier and dislodged countless wooden piles, causing more than £7,000 of damage.