Monday, December 31, 2007

An old theory re-surfaces

At the beginning of December, a new book saw the light of the day. Fishing Explorer – authored by Ernest Suddaby, a former skipper of the Gaul, and published by Maritime Info UK Ltd - makes a very pleasurable read.
Put together with brilliant literary skill, printed in excellent graphic conditions and warmly prefaced by Alan Johnson MP, the book offers the reader a rich source of documentary information and photographic material.
The book carries two main narrative threads: one which depicts the author’s trip to the Falklands and one recounting his time as skipper onboard the Gaul, interspersed with personal memories and anecdotes.
In his account of the Gaul, along with his impressions and recollections of past events and more recent developments in the Gaul saga – many of which are well worthy of note - the author also shares with us his disagreement with the results of the 2004 Formal Investigation, and his personal opinions as to the causes that might have led to the loss of the vessel.In the author’s view, the sinking of the Gaul was caused by foul weather and bad luck, which led to flooding through the two fish loading hatches cut into the trawl deck. These hatches, it is suggested, could have been opened by the pull of gravity, when the vessel rolled beyond 90 degrees in heavy seas.
Mr Suddaby’s hypothesis is not that new, in fact it has been, if we may say so, previously enjoyed. It is what the results of the first formal inquiry, held in 1974, implied. The MAIB also flirted with this theory for a while, although, after the 2002 underwater survey and further reflection, they decided to abandon it. They did not, however, explain very well why.
Therefore, we have taken it upon ourselves to try and present the reasons why this loss scenario is merely a conception (so as not to say mis-conception) rather than a real possibility.
To elucidate matters, we have compiled the video clip below, which, in a simplified manner, attempts to show how the fish loading hatches on the Gaul would have behaved under various roll conditions. The model presented therein shows that gravity – which inexorably acts downwards at all times and circumstances - would have had the effect of keeping the hatch covers closed and prevented seawater from getting inside the ship, when the ship rolled to an angle of 90 degrees from its vertical position. The model also shows that, when the ship rolled beyond 90 degrees, the hatch covers would have still been kept closed by seawater pressure, and that this would have happened even without taking into account the effects of the hydraulic ram system, which was connected to the hatches.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


* image based on a cartoon by Dan Perjovski

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The broken pact

In our post of July 12 2007, we explained that, according to the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act and the 2006 Fraud Act, the Secretary of State for Transport would be likely to commit the offence of fraud by abuse of position, if she did not order a re-opening of the Gaul Investigation in the light of the evidence we presented.
Six months have passed since and, having failed to take appropriate action or to provide any reasonable justification, not even a word, in support of her decision not to re-examine the case, Mrs Ruth Kelly, currently at the helm of the Department for Transport, appears to be either ill-advised or consciously in breach of the law.
As Lenin and his associates used to dismiss the law as bourgeois sham, the New Labour regime shows a similar contempt for legality, though not so much for ideological reasons, as out of recklessness and a lack of ethical commitment.
The significance of the rule of law in the survival of a democracy is not a complicated concept to appreciate – it guards against tyranny and holds society together. When the political power applies the rules discriminately and self-interestedly, the tacit pact between society and the state - which, in the end, gives the law its legitimacy - is broken.
The New Labour government, however, doesn’t seem to worry too much over these consequences.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Inventions and devices

In our previous posts we uncovered a number of inadequacies in the expert analysis carried out during the 2004 Gaul RFI.
More recently, we have highlighted some serious flaws in the RFI analysis pertaining to the Gaul’s sinking scenario.
Yesterday, we raised doubts as to the quality of the information put forward by the RFI panel of experts in their paper: ‘The Loss of the M.F.V Gaul’ which was presented to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in 2006.
Today, we would like to go back to that same paper and question why a door self-closing mechanism, similar to the one pictured below, was mentioned only in that document, while the 2004 RFI report, the transcripts of evidence or other related sources do not seem to include any reference to such a device.
8.3(c) Flooding of liver plant
Subsequent to the model testing, it was found although the door from the factory to the liver plant room……………. The door was partially shut by a self-closing device…”
The answer may be quite simple: without such a device, which would have allowed floodwater to become trapped inside the liver plant room (and thus change the stability behaviour of the vessel), the vessel-sinking scenario chosen by the RFI experts would have been less plausible.
Apart from the lack of evidence as to the existence of a self-closer, it is also important to note that the door to the liver plant room on the factory deck was a weathertight door to which - naval architects know it is neither standard shipbuilding practice nor stated norm - self-closing devices are not fitted because they do not work correctly.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hyperbolic representation

On 25 January 2006, the Gaul RFI experts panel presented a paper entitled ‘The Loss of the M.F.V Gaul’ (see to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. This paper - a summary on the work the experts had concluded during the 2004 RFI - flatly states:
There was no logical reason why the duff and offal chute lids were secured in the open position, whilst dodging, other than crew error. It is also difficult to understand why the flap valves were jammed in the open position other than bad maintenance onboard or shore.”
Familiar perhaps with the old wisdom that a good slogan can stop fifty years of analysis, or maybe emboldened by the calm passage of time, the Gaul experts claimed in their paper more certainty for the results of the 2004 RFI than the course of the proceedings ever warranted, and confidently put forward a more unequivocal explanation for the open state of the chutes’ inner lids.
Thus, what justice Steel and his associates had delicately implied at the end of the RFI, fourteen months later, the experts laid down in more explicit language, adding extra detail, specificity and emphasis to what the legal staff had left unsaid.
Had our Gaul experts been more scrupulous in checking their notes, the RFI transcripts of evidence and the final report, they would have remembered that the duff and offal chutes’ lids had not actually been found secured in the open position. Though, of course, the implication that the lids had been found so allowed the crew error/negligence label to be much more easily attached.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Government's Reform Agenda

A number of critical observations on the Professional Skills Competency Framework - a strategic element of the government's Reform Agenda have been published at:
Seen as a new lever in the appropriation of the Civil Service by the political power, the plan could grant politicised senior management undue discretionary control over professional staff within the Service.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cultivating detachment

Our press release (see the post below) seems to have, to some extent, flooded the Internet. Why, we didn’t really foresee that...
Anyway, we now ought to go back to the first pieces in the Gaul RFI domino chain - the Department for Transport.
Next week we will be celebrating two months since we first asked the Department for the names of those elusive in-house technical experts who, allegedly, advised the DfT not to re-open the Gaul investigation. (See our posts of 13 November and 31 October.).
Given that to act is inconceivable and not to act is unfeasible, the latest message from the head of Shipping Policy unit in the DfT, delivered cautiously via intermediaries, was that we should continue waiting.
Now, it appears, is not a good time to have our curiosity satisfied. The omens look unfavourable to the government for the moment.
“The Government is urging all the citizens of the big towns to cultivate detachment. According to this, it’s our last hope of finding an answer to the economic crisis, the confusion of the spirit and the problems of existence.” Eugène Ionesco, Victims of Duty