Sunday, May 27, 2007

The puzzle tour

We have often asked ourselves why such an obvious fault in the design of the Gaul had escaped the attention of scores of technical experts and assessors during years of legal battles and official scrutiny.
Why was this fault not noticed when the drawings were examined, immediately after the loss of the vessel?
Is it really possible that the design fault was, in fact, noticed?
Is it possible that the 2002 discovery of the design fault in the duff and offal chutes was, in fact, a re-discovery?
The labyrinthine trail of the Gaul’s history has eventually lead us back to the autumn of 1977 when, probably for the first time, the possibility of a problem with the chutes on the Gaul, as a likely cause for the loss of the vessel, was recorded. In a memo dated 14 September 1977, the Surveyor General in the Department of Trade (DOT) wrote:
It would indeed be a bonus if we not only located the GAUL but also established the cause of the loss. However, most evidence points to the GAUL being an intact ship, so we can give little guidance as to damage and I would expect small openings[1] which may have allowed the entry of water to the factory deck to be indetectable. The soundings also indicate the wreck which we suspect is the GAUL, is lying on its side…” Source RFI formal report paragraph 8.25
On 22 December 1977, the NMI released the report of their DOT-sponsored research into the sea-keeping and stability characteristics of the Gaul. These findings refuted the conclusions of the 1974 Formal Investigation by establishing that flooding of the factory deck would have been a precondition for the vessel’s capsize.
In a strange twist of logic, the results of the NMI research were subsequently interpreted as clearing the vessel’s builders and designers of any responsibility and, thus, the case[2] against them was dropped. In the whole maze of tangle and misdirection, this was probably a significant point. A supreme example of slothful induction, the decision implied that a design fault on the vessel could have only been contemplated if the capsize and sinking had been caused by water accumulated on the trawl deck - that is water accumulated on the factory deck could not have been put down to a design fault or construction error, but only to crew action or inaction. (?!)
During the 30 years of floundering and confusion that followed, no one managed to reach the centre of this circular labyrinth – the place where, as the legend has it, you will probably find a monster.
[1] There were only two “small openings” capable of admitting water to the factory deck that would be undetectable if the vessel was lying on its starboard side: the duff and offal chute openings.
[2] In February 1997, a writ alleging negligence had been issued against the Gaul’s owners and its designers/ builders, Brooke Marine shipyard, by the families of the crew.

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