Sunday, September 30, 2007

We've been here before

Following up from our posts of 5 and 9 September, and our recent correspondence with the Treasury Solicitors, we announce that we have been taken aback by the latest reply received from the TSol.

Rather than answering our questions or justifying their previous position (which is a shame because we would have loved to hear their answers), the Treasury Solicitors have decided, this time around, to abandon subterfuge, lay down their swords and wash their hands of the Gaul case, passing the responsibility for a final decision on the prospect of re-opening the Gaul investigation back to the Department for Transport.

Well, I am sure Mrs Ruth Kelly was grateful for that; after all the efforts she had made in order to avoid personal involvement, shielding herself with the bodies of various lawyers and civil servants, she is now back in the spotlight.

Unfortunately for Mrs Kelly, the duty to consider our evidence and decide on the necessity of re-opening the Gaul case does, indeed, rest with the Secretary of State for Transport. This is the law and there is no ministerial exception to it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Debunking fallacies

(The hinged inner covers – part 1)
Over the course of the past year we have revealed a number of serious failings in the conduct and conclusions drawn by the 2004 Gaul RFI panel. Throughout this time, the DfT has, nonetheless, persistently avoided re-opening the debate on this subject and doggedly stuck to the RFI official line.
As the fallacies in their final report were being dismantled, they continued to fend off any controversy by wielding what they thought was their ‘biggest’ argument:
[Regardless of any failings in the investigative process, on the day of the loss, the crew could have closed and secured the inner covers of the duff and offal chutes and this action in itself would have saved the vessel.]
Thus, the officials argue, regardless of any failures of the RFI, the over-riding outcome of the formal investigation (that crew error had been instrumental in the vessel’s loss) is still valid and, therefore, a miscarriage of justice did not occur.
As we are going to demonstrate in our future posts, this argument, also, is fallacious in that it, too, relies on misinterpretations of known facts and on conclusions that have been drawn from incorrect or unsound premises. For instance:
  1. The panel concluded that the crew had left the inner covers of the chutes open. Using images from the underwater survey of wreck, they tried to show that one of the inner covers had been tied back in the open position.
    The ligature that supposedly performed this function was clearly just an item of post-casualty debris.
    Moreover, there was evidence indicating quite the opposite –i.e. that both covers might have been closed and secured before the incident happened.
  2. The panel stated that the construction of the inner covers was satisfactory, that they were watertight and that, had they been closed, the safety of the vessel would have been assured.
    This is not at all correct: the inner covers were neither weathertight nor watertight, they were not even supposed to be so, and, if closed, they could not have been relied upon to maintain the watertight integrity of the vessel.
The chutes had two means of protection against the ingress of water from outside: the outer non-return flaps and the inner covers.
Making a simplistic, although very befitting, analogy we can compare the system for closing the chutes to that used to seal a plastic milk bottle: the threaded plastic cap at the outside, providing the strength barrier against spillage, and the tin foil seal on the inside, meant only to stop leakage.
The Gaul RFI, in their desire to obscure the obvious design flaws of the outer flaps, concluded that, no matter the state of the flaps, had the inner covers been closed and secured, the loss of vessel would have been prevented.
This, going back to our comparison, is like saying that, no matter whether your milk bottle has its plastic cap securely screwed on or not, the tin foil underneath should be enough to prevent the milk from spilling, whatever the circumstances and however roughly you handle the bottle.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Laying the blame on those who cannot defend themselves

(click to enlarge)

The areas coloured in orange represent the critical down-flooding openings, which were deemed to have played a part in the loss of the Gaul.
The areas coloured in blue (the funnel vents) are also critical in the down-flooding scenario, although these are meant to be kept open at all times.

The duff and offal chutes were found open on the wreck. The 2004 RFI concluded therefore that they had been left open by the crew.
As we have attempted to demonstrate on these pages and in the attached documents, the chutes’ outer flaps had a design fault, while their inner covers could not provide sufficient protection against flooding.

The fish loading hatches and the net store hatch, as our previous post explained, could have been opened by air pressure or by the force of internal floodwater acting on them from inside the vessel.
The RFI panel’s opinion, however, was that these hatches, also, had been left unsecured by the crew and had opened due to gravity when the vessel was sinking.

The engine room escape door, the RFI surmised, had been opened by one of the crew when trying to escape from the lower deck at the time of the incident.
In the absence of any contrary evidence, the hypothesis that this door had been opened by air pressure is again more probable.

The RFI panel concluded that the access door to the accommodation space, also, had been left open by the crew; and we can contend again that trapped air pressure or internal floodwater pressure could have opened it just as well.

As to the factory deck access door the RFI concluded, this time on the basis of some tangible evidence, that the crew had failed to secure it in the closed position.

All in all, the only conclusion we can draw from the dubious RFI findings is that the 2004 investigation panel was too eager to suggest a pattern of widespread crew negligence and to lay the blame for the loss of the Gaul on the victims to bother about plausibility.
Ignoring the existence of alternative explanations, underpinned by simple scientific principles, the RFI panel chose to put forward a loss scenario that was not only unsupported by any credible evidence, but also defied common sense.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The fish loading hatches on the Gaul

In 1999, in the year following their first underwater survey of the wreck of the Gaul, the MAIB produced their Marine Accident Report no. 4/99.
Amongst other things, this report put forward the MAIB’s hypothesis as to why the two large fish loading hatches on the Gaul had been found open during the survey. This stated that, at the time of the loss, the hatches had been unsecured and that they had therefore fallen open during the vessel’s capsize and sinking ’by the stern’.
As we have attempted to demonstrate in the document published at this LINK, the MAIB analysis, taken as read by the 2004 RFI panel, appears to have been seriously flawed.
The error it contains relates to one of the possible mechanisms that could have opened the fish loading hatches, namely, an increase in pressure of the air trapped between the water that was flooding into the vessel and the under side of the closed hatches.The MAIB report stated that the maximum lifting pressure on the underside of the fish loading hatches was only 478 N/m² (49 kg/m²), and that this would occur, for some unknown reason, when the vessel was exactly 80m below the sea surface. (!?)

A simple calculation can show, however, that if the Gaul had had a trim by the head of only 5ยบ [1] and had been submerged to merely two metres below the sea’s surface, the lifting pressure on the underside of each fish-loading hatch could have been of the order of 900 kg/m² (i.e. approximately 3.5 tonnes per hatch), while the self-weight of each hatch was approximately 0.9 tonnes.

This ‘error’ meant that one plausible scenario for the opening of the hatches was incorrectly eliminated from the formal investigation, while another similarly plausible hypothesis – the possibility of the hatches having been opened by the force of internal floodwater acting on the hatches from inside the vessel – was not even mentioned.

Here again, as in the case of the duff and offal chutes, the preferred explanation was crew error.


[1] Although both the MAIB and RFI experts have concluded that the Gaul sank initially and sedately by the stern, this theory cannot be relied upon with any degree of certainty, as it does not take into account the dynamic loads and ship motions that the vessel would undoubtedly have experienced, whilst at or near to the sea’s surface and following the redistribution and loss of buoyancy that would have occurred, as it flooded and sank. At the time of the loss the weather was extreme, with a significant wave height of circa 10m and with infrequent individual waves of up to 19m in height.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Following on from our previous post, we can add that the Treasury Solicitor has also informed us that: “To my knowledge, Mr [D****] has not provided a final report and so it would be premature to assume that the formal investigation will not be re-opened.”
The report in question (TECHNICAL REPORT) is just one of the technical documents that we have provided so far. As everyone can see, this site contains additional evidence and links to several other relevant documents, which the DfT/TSol should have noted.
However, the Treasury Solicitor only referred to our first report (?!), which, he states, “as accessed via the Internet”, does not provide grounds for re-opening the investigation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Seen from above

Insufficient evidence’ is a common response these days to claims for due and proper investigation of high-profile misdemeanours, two magic words that have the power to open the doors to impunity.
We heard them in the cash-for-honours fiasco; we heard them used in several other affairs and now we hear them again with reference to the Gaul case.

Recently, the Treasury Solicitor himself made use of this ‘get-out’ formula when he advised the Department for Transport on the possibility of re-examining the shameful outcome of the 2004 Gaul Investigation.
The Treasury Solicitor, who, during the 2004 RFI, prepared and presented the case under directions from Lord Goldsmith, is now charged with assessing our criticisms of that investigation (published online for all to see).
When asked to justify his pronouncement, he simply told us that our evidence ‘as seen’ did not provide grounds for re-opening the investigation. Fullstop.

Evidence ‘as seen’…?! What could the meaning of this be? Why so inexplicit? Did he think that, if understood, his words would loose their mystical power; or was it just his way of reminding us that the government is too far above the law to have a clear vision of their tasks?