Thursday, June 14, 2007

Moving the goalposts

In our first POST, dated 31 August 2006 and in the technical paper (pages 15, 26-30) published HERE, we showed how the internationally agreed definitions for ‘watertight’ and ‘weathertight’ (which lay down the required properties for certain ship’s fittings) had been altered in the final report of the 2004 Gaul RFI, by the Investigation panel, in a way that made them looser in requirements and application.
To recap, the RFI definition for ‘watertight’ did not contain the very specific and essential capability of “preventing the passage of water in any direction under a head of water for which the surrounding structure is designed” that the standard definition incorporated, while the definition for ‘weathertight’ replaced the statutory capability that “in any sea conditions water will not penetrate into the vessel” with the less stringent requirement of ”being sealed to exclude water in normal sea conditions”.
Now, you may wonder: why would the RFI panel do such a thing, of creatively re-writing these definitions, rather than simply reproducing the standard ones from the Load Line and other Conventions?
If one looks at this problem in the whole context of the investigation and its outcome, then it becomes apparent that, without these alterations, the findings and the loss scenario that were produced by the investigation panel, would not have held water.
It was only according to these modified definitions that the inner covers of the duff and offal chutes on the Gaul could be categorised as watertight (in reality, these covers were not even of weathertight standard[1]).
Once having wrongly ascribed ‘watertight’ properties to the inner covers, it was then easy to claim, as the 2004 RFI did, that, had these covers been secured in the closed position, the flooding and subsequent loss of the vessel could have been prevented. As the Gaul’s inner covers were found to be open during the underwater survey, the blame for the incident was then immediately placed on the crew, thus avoiding any need for a further proper examination of the faulty outer ‘non-return’ flaps. (See VIDEO clip for a brief demonstration of the design fault)
Hence, we can only infer that: had the RFI panel not assigned properties to the closing arrangements on the duff and offal chutes of the Gaul on the basis of false criteria, they would have had to arrive at the same conclusion as others have: i.e. with the outer non-return flaps properly designed, the vessel would not have sank, regardless of whether the inner covers were open or closed.
[1] Only in combination with the outer flaps were the inner covers intended to form a weathertight barrier to the sea. The role of the outer flaps was to provide a strength barrier against the force of the waves, and that of the inner covers to simply prevent the leakage.

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