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24th January 2018




Capt. John Henry Leggett, a Master Mariner, who died in Aberdeen less than a year after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, was for almost two decades a prominent figure in the North Sea oil industry in his several senior marine management roles at the UK's second-largest terminal complex at Flotta, the low-lying island in Scapa Flow, Orkney. It is there that the Britain's second-largest crude-oil super-tanker export complex is located.

Later, after a short spell at an oil terminal on the Cromarty Firth, Capt. Leggett was engaged as professional consultant on the safe design and operational-training for staff on India's first LNG (liquefied natural gas) import terminal on the Gulf of Khambat. It lies in India's most Westerly and most prosperous province of Gujarat, when Mr Narendra Modi ... now India's national Prime Minister ... was Chief Minister of the 50 million population state with a broadly similar area to the UK lying in India's North Westerly corner.

John was the son of RAF pilot Thomas Leggett who was lost to enemy action over Northern France in August, 1944, so he never knew his father. His mother Winfred re-married in 1951 and John found Mr Charles Philips to be 'a perfect dad' who encouraged his sporting prowess, especially cycling, a life-long leisure pursuit.

John did not really enjoy school-life , but he found chemistry interesting and was unsure of his future when he attended a 'careers convention' at London's giant Olympia exhibitions hall. There the 16-year-old learned of the opportunities of becoming a 'deck apprentice' in Britain's Merchant Navy; he saw that officer cadets could rise to become a ship's captain through application and hard work.

For most of the 1960s, young John found himself learning the ropes with London & Overseas Freighters ... the 'London Greeks' to older Red Ensign hands.

He had expected his first voyage on the 'tramp' cargo-ship London Tradition to last six weeks, but it was ten months later before he arrived back home again.

That did not deter John and so by 1964 he had passed his Second Mate's Foreign-going examinations. From then on he found himself responsible for ships' bridge 'watches' on the company's vessels on sea-routes all over the world.

One of the line's senior masters hailed from the shores of the Pentland Firth, Scotland's busiest coastal and inter-continental shipping trade seaway, and John befriended one of his younger trainee relatives from the Scottish Mainland's Far North. And indeed from then on, it was people from the shores of the narrow strait between Caithness and the Orkney Islands that would influence John's future career-path.

Through those contacts, in 1965 John met a pretty young newly-qualified midwife Miss Wilma Calder, who was working in London, prior to taking up a hospital post across the Atlantic in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

She wasn't even born when her ship-master father Capt. William Calder was lost at sea from enemy action after his ship was torpedoed in 1942; while his District Nurse widow Jemima 'Mimie' was killed while on duty when her issue Mini-car was hit by a lorry in a horrific road smash at Keiss, near Wick, in 1960, leaving Wilma as an orphan while still in her teens.

After a lengthy courtship, often by letter, the couple wed In 1970 in the historic Canisbay Kirk, in Caithness, just yards from the Pentland Firth's often-wild waters, the same year that he received his British Master Mariner's certificate.

By then, he was sailing successively as Third, Second and First Officer on crude-oil and products tankers.

By the early 1970s John worked for Chevron Tank-ships (UK), before long he was Master of super-tankers (VLCCs: Very Large Crude Carriers) of up to 270,00 tonnes deadweight. He had undertaken pilotage qualifications and certificates for 'ship-to-ship' liquid cargo transfers off the Bahamas, whilst the company sent him to monitor the building of its new super-tankers at a ship-yard in Nagasaki, Japan.

Wilma often accompanied her new husband on lengthy inter-continental voyages, and they set up home at the Calder family's home at Dunnet, on Caithness's Pentland Firth coast.

On shore leaves, John found himself being warmly welcomed, as Master Mariner was a rank that earned due respect in that maritime community. John got to know first-hand some of the wiles ...and potential hazards ... of the fast-flowing Pentland Firth sea-currents and 'tide-races' when he accompanied Wilma's uncle Malcolm Green on local shell-fishing trips on his tiny traditional wooden creel-boat.

Malcolm was a former City of London policemen who had been invalided out of the force due to an illness contracted during the WWII Blitz, when the City was pounded nightly by the German Nazi regime's bombers.

By late 1974, John and Wilma's daughter Jemma had arrived and the young Captain was considering using his qualifications and experience for a 'shore' posting.

By then, North Sea oil had begun to be exploited and, in conversation in the bar of the John O'Groats House Hotel, John heard that the operators of the under-construction giant oil terminal at Flotta, Scapa Flow, just ten miles across the Pentland Firth, were shortly to be advertising for professional marine staff to be based there.

Capt Leggett moved quickly and by 1976 he found himself as the terminal operator's first maritime recruit, prior to its official inauguration by Energy Minister Tony Benn in early 1977.

The young Leggett family moved to Kirkwall, Orkney and John was steadily promoted during his 18 year stint there from mooring master to the top rank as the complex's Marine Superintendent. In that position, he became responsible for managing the massive terminal's marine activities, including planning and directing operations for loading crude-oil and gas tankers. In its early years, a full super-tanker load of crude-oil was shipped every day from Flotta.

From the start, John was acutely aware of the volatile ... and potentially-dangerous ... nature of the liquid cargoes being loaded for sailing to far-flung port destinations, mainly in the UK, Europe and North America.

So he applied himself to further courses in a range of related studies, in such as cargo auditing, safe management systems, vessel surveying and anti-pollution measures.

In 1995 he was appointed to the Cromarty Firth as berthing master at the Nigg Oil Terminal, where he had responsibility for establishing liquid-cargo ship-to-ship transfers and many other aspects of safe port operations.

In 1997, John began offering his expertise and experience internationally as an independent marine consultant.

He worked as part of a two-man team setting up marine operations at a major new oil-import terminal on the Gulf of Kutch, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, in Gujarat, India.

He established first-class professional relationships with Indian colleagues and he was selected as a key consultant on an important new departure for India with the construction of that country's first LNG (liquefied natural gas) import terminal on the Gulf of Khambat, also Gujarat.

India's economy has suffered for decades from lengthy power-cuts and the concept was to import LNG in specialist tankers at very low temperatures (c. minus 162 degrees C) from Qatar. John's tasks included drafting safe start-up and continuing operational procedures there.

The facility has been expanded three-fold since its inauguration while India now has three other LNG receiving terminals up-and-running with others 'in the pipeline' under Prime Minister Modi's stewardship.

John worked closely with the UK's Associated Petroleum Consultants Ltd (APC) in recent years, but fell ill in December 2016 whilst on duty.

In February 2017, his symptoms were confirmed as motor neuron disease, which rapidly took hold.

In March 2017, John and Wilma ... who has been suffering from dementia ... moved to their daughter' Jemma's home at Echt, Westhill, near Aberdeen. In mid November, he had to be moved into the Roxburghe House palliative care facility in Aberdeen, where he passed away on December 15th, 2017.

Capt. Leggett's funeral thanksgiving service was led by Pastor Simon Dennis at Sheddocksley Baptist Church, Aberdeen.

Cycling was John's lifelong leisure passion, from his days as a teenage local champion. Amongst others, he cycled Land's End to John O'Groats, did a (non-competitive) stage of the Tour de France, and took part in charity rides from London to Paris, the Etape Caledonia and the MS150, from Houston to Austin, Texas, USA.

John is survived by Wilma, their daughter Jemma and her Aberdeen energy-engineering company director husband Mr Steve Aitken, who have a family of four; Callum, Bethany, Daniel and Sophie, his grand-children are aged from two to twelve years old.

Bill Mowat

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