A former sea captain who saved sailors from a sinking ship, battled to save a vessel in a cyclone and set up a successful Great Yarmouth survey company has died aged 88.

James McKee spent a large part of his adult life at sea as a merchant sailor after he first boarded a ship as a cadet aged 15 in 1950.

He ended up as a well-respected sea captain before moving to work in Great Yarmouth in 1972 where he went on to set up his own survey company.

At the age of 17 he was thrust into a major rescue operation to save Greek sailors from a sinking ship.

He was travelling on a cargo vessel returning from Basra, Iraq, when the crew responded to an emergency call and were forced to take on board 40 sailors from a coal transport vessel –which later sank at sunrise.

Scottish-born Mr McKee had also been severely tested as a sea captain when he guided his ship away from a cyclone in the Indian Ocean which destroyed 68 Korean fishing boats.

The treacherous conditions caused his ship to lose instrumentation and take on water.

But Mr McKee managed to manoeuvre the ship to safety by turning around and heading to Madagascar – despite having no chart for the country's waters.

Mr McKee secured a land-based job in Nigeria in 1967 for the Decca Navigator Company, part of the Decca Record group.

As manager of their company in Nigeria he was responsible for setting up navigation systems in the country and surrounding countries.

In 1972 Mr McKee and his family returned to the Britain, and he set up a company in Great Yarmouth in partnership with the Decca Navigator company.

It was set up to manage navigation systems in the North Sea at a time when gas and oil exploration was starting up.

The company's office was on South Quay, and over the following years it expanded to own and manage nine survey ships working in the North Sea, the Persian Gulf and Nigeria.

In 1978, Mr McKee set up his own company, J McKee & Partners Ltd, and in 1980 purchased his first ship Bon Accord, which was engaged in carrying out sea bed survey work.

Within a few years the fleet expanded to seven ships, working on a world-wide basis carrying out survey work for the oil industry, hydrographic survey work for the Royal Navy, core sampling for the aggregates industry, offshore gold exploration work in South Africa, archaeological and wreck surveys and exploration in Cape Verde, and environmental survey work for North Sea wind farm projects.

Some of the company's ships used Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft as their operational base while they were operational in the southern North Sea.

In 1982, Mr McKee took over a long-established classification survey company, W J Palmer Surveys.

It was renamed McKee Surveys Ltd, with the company carrying out Industrial and marine classification surveys for Germanischer Lloyd, Bureau Veritas, and Bahamas Maritime.

Mr McKee and his company remained active within the marine industry until February 2020, when his last ship Southern Star was sold to a Scarborough-based company researching and developing growing seaweed.

In 2011 Mr McKee was presented with the Merchant Navy Medal after working in the shipping and the marine sector for 61 years.

The 78-year-old said at the time: "I am honoured. The great thing about it is that I am getting something for doing my job.

"Everything is carted into the country by the merchant navy, but people don't realise we are the industry carrying goods across the world."

Mr McKee was born in Auchengree, Scotland on April 30 1934.

He married wife Heather in March 1961 and set up home in Scotland, where their children, Karen, Scot and Wendy were born.

In 1972 they moved to Norwich, and later set up their family home in Lime Tree Road.

Mrs McKee died in March 2019 and Mr McKee died on September 16.

They are survived by their three children and seven grandchildren

His funeral was held at St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich on October 5.