Sunday, December 13, 2009

FV Trident Formal Investigation – financial pressures

The latest news trickling from the FV Trident formal inquiry is rather disquieting. An article in the Times informs us that the relatives of the seven fishermen who lost their lives when the Trident went down in 1974 are now threatened by the government with financial ruin if they continue to press for a correct and unbiased investigation.

Although in 2002 Stephen Byers, then Secretary of State for Transport, promised that the government will honour its obligation to fund the proceedings, and despite the fact that the families have had no say in how the £3 million costs incurred to date have been decided, the government now has the gall to warn the families that they will not be reimbursed for the costs of essential technical assistance, unless they cease their quest for the truth and fall in with the government’s preferred version of events.

Yes, £3 million is a significant amount, but it was the government alone who chose to spend this sum and what to spend it on. The new model-testing performed in Holland, for instance, was not really necessary except to bolster the government’s proposition that it was a big wave rather than poor design that had been responsible for the vessel’s loss (comprehensive model tests had already been carried out in the late seventies, which indicated that poor stability on the Trident could have led to her capsize).
This blatant bullying of the Trident widows shows the level that our government officials will sink to in order to maintain the myth that there is no gain in pursuing justice and to avoid, perhaps, creating a point of reference for other similarly contentious inquiries.

The Times article also mentions that the victims’ families are determined to look further into the possibility that Trident had stability problems, and that the pursuit of this line of inquiry “would involve raising the vessel from the seabed”.
In fact, this is not really the case. In 1975, at the end of the first formal investigation, and 26 years before the wreck of the Trident was discovered, the Court felt confident enough to be able to conclude:
“The Court considers it probable that deficient stability in her design contributed to her foundering.”
Since then, the only new thing that has emerged is the evidence from the underwater survey of the wreck, which appears to attach even more weight to that probability.

Raising the vessel from the seabed may (depending on the state of the wreckage) provide the experts with some additional information that would improve the accuracy of their stability calculations. However, this is uncertain, and it may well be that, at the end of the day, the information already available from the sister vessel (and from the inclining test carried out on the Trident in Middlesbrough) provides the most realistic basis for a suitable assessment of the Trident’s stability.

Anyway, the biggest problem is that the Advocate General has already made it clear that she is determined not to allow an inquiry into the sinking of a vessel focus on the vessel’s design. Now, the stability of the vessel may be assessed one way or the other, but how do you solve that?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The public bath

By definition, a public inquiry is said to be a search for truth regarding the causes of some terrible incident or man-made disaster, conducted in the public interest and in the public view - the results from such investigations being deemed beneficial to our understanding of what went wrong with our actions and what measures need to be taken in future so as to avoid similar mishaps.

In New Labour Britain, however - in this respect as in many others - the theory is very much divorced from the actual fact. Many public inquiries have opened and closed, leaving us not much the wiser, only a lot shorter of public cash.
So what are these inquiries for?

The most recent and prominent example is the ongoing Chilcot inquiry into the circumstances that led to the war in Iraq.
Like the investigations into maritime accidents (in which we have a greater interest), the search for the truth about the Iraq war has been a process in need of several re-iterations [1] - each of them having left the public dissatisfied.

Confronted with the horrid necessity of having to satisfy people’s curiosity and diffuse various social tensions, governments are not inimical to the idea of setting up public inquiries, but, if there is any risk of political humiliation, they make sure that these affairs will not seek out the truth in earnest or learn any lessons from it – except, perhaps, on how to circumvent the facts more effectively next time around.

As it can be said about many other similar undertakings before it, the Chilcot inquiry could have easily not existed [2]. Since many in the political Establishment know only too well what really happened and who is to blame and why, it would have been a lot easier (and cheaper) if the truth had been publicly revealed, without too much ceremony and vacillation, and the appropriate corrective/retributive actions had then been taken as required.

But discovering the truth is not what a public inquiry is about. Is it? A public inquiry, nowadays, is more like a communal bath – a public place of sensual abandonment and ritual lustration - where the interested parties, hiding their nudity from the public behind clouds of steam and odorous suds, soak together in opulent lather, scrubbing each other’s backs. Its purpose is simply to make them appear purer in the end, and leave them more relaxed - and smelling of flowers.

[1] See the Hutton inquiry and the Butler review

[2] Just as the MV Derbyshire, FV Gaul and FV Trident opened and re-opened formal investigations

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

FV Trident inquiry – confusion and instability

The Trident was a typical example of the Scottish trawlers that were built in the late 60’s and early 70’s of just less than 24.4m (80 ft) in registered length. Outwardly it exhibited no obvious characteristics or features that would set it apart from the other similar vessels built at that time.

This particular size and type of trawler had a proven reputation for being seaworthy in all weather conditions, and in this respect we would hope that, ultimately, the Court of inquiry will be able to identify those critical differences on Trident which set her apart from the rest of the Scottish fleet and which caused her to capsize and founder in relatively moderate sea conditions.
The Trident was only 18 months old at the time of her loss.


Judging by the latest press reports on the debate about Trident’s stability, it seems that currently, there is some confusion within the Court as to what ‘stability’ actually means in the context of a fishing trawler and on what stability standards should normally apply. There also seems to be some confusion as to how a fishing vessel’s stability is actually measured and assessed, and, additionally, the terms ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ stability appear to have the Court’s official experts and Counsel talking at cross purposes.

In recent days it has been reported:

“Sheriff Principal Sir Stephen Young, who is overseeing the inquest, ordered him [the counsel for the families] to compile a second document restating his case.
The first order was served on Monday, when the court ruled that Mr Anderson’s arguments on static stability, dynamic stability and stability curves – all of which must be in check for a boat to remain upright – were not clear.” (Aberdeen Press and Journal 18 November 2009)

“The inquiry heard yesterday that an incline test on the Trident would not have revealed if she was at risk of capsizing.
Richard Anderson, representing some of the families, said it is their belief that the test, which is used to measure the stability of a boat in calm conditions, would have uncovered problems with the Trident’s stability.
William Boyd, a director of TMC Marine Consultants, told the inquiry the test “has no relevance” when a boat is out at sea.
[…] “An incline test is a necessary and useful test, but in predicting what external forces are going to arise at sea it has no relevance.” (Aberdeen Press and Journal 17 November 2009)

A MARINE expert insisted a test of a Peterhead-registered trawler which sank would not have proven whether it was sea-worthy. […] Mr Boyd said a test on the Trident would have been “non applicable” because it would have been carried out in calm waters. (Aberdeen Evening Express 17 November 2009)

“Master mariner Graeme Bowles said a static test on the boat would not have correctly assessed her stability when at sea, and that a dynamic stability test was usually done to check this. […] The inquiry had previously heard that an inclining test, usually done when the boat is static, had not been carried out. It examines the vertical centre of gravity and its effect on a vessel’s stability. […] When asked by Ailsa Wilson, QC for the advocate general, to explain the difference between static and dynamic tests, Mr Bowles said: 'Dynamic takes into account everything to do with the ship’s behaviour when she is at sea.' The test takes into account the risk of capsizing and the threat posed by violent winds and waves”. (Aberdeen Press and Journal 28 October 2009)

Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the personnel making up this ‘expert panel’ may not be wholly impartial, and that their ‘expert pronouncements’ and arguments, although developed at taxpayer’s expense, may be influenced, to some degree, by the specific interests of their clients.

Mr Bowles and Mr Boyd’s assertions, which have been quoted above, unless taken out of context, are incorrect and misleading; they don’t reflect the stability standards that are applied either on current UK fishing vessels or on those built in 1973. The two marine experts also play down the critical importance that an ‘inclining test’ has in determining a vessel’s stability.
Their implication that the International Maritime Organization’s mandatory requirements for inclining experiments and stability [1] were developed for purposes other than vessels operating at sea is really quite surprising.

Currently, inclining tests are an essential part of the statutory processes that ensure UK fishing vessels have adequate stability while operating at sea. (ref. Merchant Shipping Notice 1770 – contains mandatory static and dynamical stability criteria for contemporary fishing vessels of a type and size similar to Trident).

It may be useful, perhaps, to provide some clarification on the types of ‘stability’ that have been discussed during this inquiry:

All vessels have an inbuilt or inherent level of stability/resistance to capsize; however, this remains an ‘unknown quantity’ until an inclining test has been carried out. The inclining test enables the weight of the vessel and the position of its centre of gravity to be determined. It is only when these values are known that the elements of a vessel’s static and dynamical stability can be calculated and compared against the standards that are required to ensure safety at sea.

Stability (in ships) - is a measure of a ships ability to return to its upright position after being heeled through some angle to port or to starboard. The tendency of a ship to ‘right itself’ is caused by the horizontal separation of the ships weight and buoyancy forces when it is heeled. The term ‘stability’ has a distinct meaning for commercial seagoing vessels and its values may be calculated accurately for different sailing conditions. The principal stability standards that are applied in the UK today are those laid down by the International Maritime Organization in the form of static and dynamical stability criteria, all of which a vessel must meet before it can put to sea.
While the IMO criteria have been developed from ‘static’ rather than ‘dynamic’ considerations and do not explicitly take ship motions and sea conditions into account, they have been found, after many years of experience and feedback from the world’s seagoing fleets, to provide a base stability standard that will prevent a vessel from capsizing in all but the most severe of weather conditions.

Inclining experiment - An inclining experiment neither measures nor tests a vessel’s stability. The purpose of an inclining experiment is to provide data that will enable a vessel’s displacement (weight) and the position of its centre of gravity to be determined. The inclining test is ‘static’ in nature and must be carried out in flat, calm conditions with the vessel in equilibrium in order to obtain accurate results. The results from an inclining experiment are essential for the accurate determination of a vessel’s stability characteristics.

Static stability (righting moment) – For a ship, the static stability at any given heel angle is the product of the horizontal separation (called GZ) between the vertical lines of action of the ship’s buoyancy force and of its weight multiplied with its displacement (note these two lines of action pass through the ship’s centre of buoyancy and centre of gravity respectively). The value of GZ varies with the angle of heel, and, if this variation is plotted from 0 degrees to (say) 90 degrees, something called a curve of statical stability is obtained.

Dynamical stability – If the area under the curve of statical stability is calculated up to any particular angle or between two inclined angles then this is known as the dynamical stability for the vessel (for the range of inclinations considered). It is a measure of the work required to be done or energy expended when forcing the vessel to heel to that angle.

Dynamic stability – This is a term that currently has different meanings for different people within the maritime industry. Traditionally it has been used instead of the term ‘Dynamical stability’ and additionally it has been used to describe a vessel’s ‘directional stability’ (ref Rawson & Tupper – Basic Ship theory) but, nowadays, more often than not, it is used (or misused) in a generic sense to describe the various properties that a ship may exhibit when in motion in a seaway.
Recently, as a result of concerns on stability fluctuations on large vessels such as Container or passenger ships the IMO has decided to examine ‘Dynamic stability phenomena in waves’ with a view to the eventual development of agreed mandatory criteria. However, this is a complex matter and it will be a number of years before any new stability criteria emerge.


It is obvious from the above that there is some scope for confusion between the terms ‘dynamical stability’ and ‘dynamic stability’ and, just as has happened in maritime circles, the Court may also have fallen victim to this misunderstanding.
Perhaps the differences between the two opposing camps and their views on stability could be briefly summarized as follows:

  • The Counsel for the families would very much like the investigation to focus upon the types of trawler ‘stability’ that can be accurately calculated following an inclining experiment and for which there are International and National standards laid down (criteria for static and dynamical stability) i.e. something which is tangible.
  • It would appear that Counsel for the other parties (including the Advocate General) might prefer the investigation to consider ‘dynamic stability’, for which no industry standards have been yet agreed either Internationally or Nationally and which has different meanings for different people: i.e. something which, at this moment in time, is not tangible.

In its latest revision to the International Code on Intact Stability, 2008 the International Maritime Organisation had this to say regarding the stability of ships in a seaway:

“The safety of a ship in a seaway involves complex hydrodynamic phenomena which up to now have not been fully investigated and understood. Motion of ships in a seaway should be treated as a dynamical system and relationships between ship and environmental conditions like wave and wind excitations are recognized as extremely important elements. Based on hydrodynamic aspects and stability analysis of a ship in a seaway, stability criteria development poses complex problems that require further research.”

It is suggested that while ‘Dynamic Stability’ may currently be of great interest to researchers, designers and operators of large container and cruise vessels, it is inappropriate for this developing field of applied science, on which there is no consensus, to be used as a basis for legal argument in a court of inquiry into the loss of a small trawler.
[1] IMO - International Code on Intact Stability

Monday, November 09, 2009

Trident Formal Investigation – the wave

On reading the latest press reports about the FV Trident formal investigation, we couldn’t help noticing how keen our government is to establish a new set of ‘prevailing weather conditions’ for the time when the fishing vessel was lost, a manoeuvre which, we understand, is being opposed by the relatives of the seven crew members who died in the tragedy.

At the heart of the matter appears to be the government’s desire to avoid any criticism [1] emerging from the current proceedings and the fact that it would be much more ‘convenient’ for them if the loss of the Trident could be put down to an act of God rather than to deficiencies in the transverse stability of the vessel.

Unfortunately for the Government, the weather conditions that were officially recorded and witnessed at the time of the vessel’s loss were unexceptional (no worse than Beaufort 5 to 6, wind from a NNE direction with a fairly rough sea) so, conjuring up a wave that is big enough to capsize an 85 ft fishing trawler from such weather conditions must be a very difficult task.

Since the wreck was discovered in 2001, there have been two official underwater surveys as well as a series of model tests, which were carried out under official supervision, in Holland [2].

Surprisingly, the results from the underwater surveys and model tests have not, as yet, been publicised, but we can guess that they will form the centrepiece of the present inquiry and show the possibility of the Trident capsizing, but only in confused sea conditions with occasional ‘big’ waves - conditions just like those that the inquiry’s official experts are now trying to convince us were in play at the time of the loss.

Subsequently, we suspect, the inquiry will be told by other leading experts that the Trident exhibited poor sea-keeping characteristics in their revised weather conditions and that it was “poor sea-keeping” in conjunction with a ‘big’ wave that ultimately led to her loss. The real factors regarding the vessels probable stability deficiencies will be thus minimised or disregarded.
At this moment in time, however, the above is mere speculation. We would like to hope that, ultimately, the truth could still emerge from the proceedings that are now taking place in Aberdeen.
[1] At the time the vessel was constructed (1973) the Whitefish Authority was meant to perform a supervisory/monitoring role to ensure that the stability of any fishing vessel, funded with State aid, met certain minimum standards.
[2] This is not the first time that model tests and research have been carried out into the Trident’s loss by the UK Government. In the late 70’s, model tests were carried out on the Trident and a similar sized trawler to compare their resistance to capsize. The Trident was found to be inferior to the second vessel, and capsized when it was made to perform circular manoeuvres in ‘breaking waves’ (note while these test conditions may be deemed ‘unrealistic’ they were found to be necessary for the model to capsize) What is significant however, is that during subsequent model tests it was found that, if the stability of the Trident model was increased slightly, it no longer capsized. (Ref: ‘Capsizing of Small Trawlers’ paper by A Morrall read at RINA meeting in Glasgow on 20 February 1979.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Truth matters

Our wellbeing is not dependant on convenient lies, but on the acceptance of true facts.
Truth alone can provide us with an accurate account of the real world, to which we must adapt our actions in order to survive.
The lack of accurate information arrests human progress: it restrains us from researching and acquiring knowledge, it prevents us from discovering what went wrong with our actions and from making good what our ignorance has wrecked.

The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and to impair our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs. They are designed to prevent us from being in touch with what is really going on. […] Lies are designed to damage our grasp of reality. […] In telling his lie, the liar tries to mislead us into believing that the facts are other than they actually are. He tries to impose his will on us. He aims at inducing us to accept his fabrication as an accurate account of how the world truly is” (H.G. Frankfurt, On truth)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

FV Trident Inquiry and the confused sea state

If what the newspapers report is correct [1], then it looks like the Trident formal investigation is now developing into an open fight between the Government, with their desire to rewrite history, on one side, and the victims' families, who want and have the right to learn the truth about how their loved ones were lost, on the other.
In the latest twist to this public inquiry, one of the government’s paid experts, Mr Stephen Barstow, senior project scientist with Fugro Oceanor, has now put forward the official line, stating that the Trident was lost following a bad storm with gale-force seven or eight winds and 15-16ft waves.
He said that “in a lengthy storm a big wave, measuring about 27ft, was likely to roll across the ocean as well” and added that the Trident would have been ploughing through a “confused sea state” with “individual waves coming from different directions all the time”.
“The inquiry also heard that the crew of the Faithful II, a fishing boat not far behind the Trident when disaster struck, recorded bad weather and eased back on their engines.” (The Press and Journal article, 30October 2009)
While this makes for exciting reading, we prefer the official view from the first public inquiry (held in 1975 when people's recollections were fresher), which, we feel, may be a closer approximation of the truth than the one being constructed today, 35 years after the event.
With regards to the weather conditions on the day of the tragedy, the report of the 1975 inquiry mentioned that “at that time the weather was dull, with fine drizzle; wind NNE force 5 to 6; sea from NNE, fairly rough; tide ebbing northwards.”

Surely Mr Barstow, being an expert on weather, must have realised that the word ‘storm’ is a term that has a distinct meaning on the Beaufort Scale (LINK), equating to force 10 wind conditions, and that a ‘bad storm’ is usually understood to be something approaching force 11, which is just one step down from a hurricane!

We are also interested to know whether those on the Faithful II did, in fact, record bad weather and, as a result, ease back on their engines, as the current inquiry contends, or whether they described conditions as “giving no cause for concern” and “heave to with engines stopped […] without trouble or anxiety” as mentioned in the report of the 1975 inquiry (see extract below).

Earlier in the week, we had heard that another of the government’s experts, Mr Graeme Bowles, a Master Mariner, held the erroneous view that an inclining test on the Trident would not have correctly assessed her stability when at sea, and that “a dynamic stability test was usually done to check this” (LINK). Mr Bowles, it would appear, is not aware of past and current stability assessment procedures on UK fishing vessels and of the fact that, at present, safety regulations with regard to ship stability are based almost exclusively on data derived from inclining tests.

We have also read, in a previous newspaper article, that Ms Ailsa Wilson, counsel for the Advocate General, warned the victims' families that they might have to face an "inconvenient truth". Strangely, in today’s Britain, the “truth” appears to inconvenience the public more often than it does the government. Something must have gone wrong with this “truth” or with our ways of searching for it.
[1] As yet there has been no official information released concerning the evidence that is being presented in this public inquiry.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Trident public inquiry re-opens

Today marks the first day of the re-opened public inquiry into the tragic loss, in 1974, of the fishing vessel Trident with all seven men onboard.

Prompted by this occasion, we visited the official DfT website (LINK) for an update on the proceedings.

Unfortunately, it appears that the official website, set up to deliver public information concerning this important inquiry, has not been updated since 5 June 2009.

Not a very promising start!

In order to assist our officials with the dissemination of public information we have provided a (LINK) to a web page where a copy (c/o Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) of the report of the first public inquiry (1975) may be read.

We would like to hope that the public information that is promised on the official website materialises before this publicly funded investigation concludes and the Sheriff retires to write his report.

"The purpose of a public inquiry is thus to carry out a full, fair and fearless investigation into the relevant events and to expose the facts to public scrutiny. That is or should be the purpose of every public inquiry." (Lord Justice Clarke, THAMES SAFETY INQUIRY)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brussels Underground

The governed have a right to know what their governments are capable of and serious abuses of power should not remain unreported or be condoned, as has been the case with the cover-up in the trawler Gaul public inquiry. For, if ignored, such acts will continue to be perpetrated and the erosion of democracy and the rule of law will become irreversible.

It is for this reason that we are now going to recount one of the more recent episodes in the Gaul saga, one which was played in the picturesque city of Brussels and in which, either willingly or unwillingly, several EU bodies played a part.

Between 2000 and 2006 a notable shift took place at the heart of Europe: the EU power elite gradually became aware of the fact that the federal Superstate, which they had long dreamed of and aspired to, had become an achievable prospect. The world was changing, power was shifting and the argument that a single European entity could be bigger and stronger than the sum of its member states was starting to make some kind of sense to more people. For a long time opposition from Britain, the national interests and the ‘vive la difference’ attitude of others had undermined the federalists’ expansionist aims. However, things were now looking different, new alliances were being forged between Europe’s new leaders, and Tony Blair was identified by the EU power brokers as the man who could deliver British assent to the new order – at a price [1].
In 2005, when it was feared that the truth about the FV Gaul inquiry could emerge, Britain’s Tony Blair was approaching a critical stage in his mission to deliver an emasculated Britain to the EU. A high-level and wide-ranging scandal, which would have exposed the state of moral dissolution within the echelons of Britain’s New-Labour establishment would have embarrassed and compromised the credibility of Prime Minister Blair, and thus his ability to fulfil the EU power elite’s agenda and his personal ambitions of grandeur. Such a mishap could not be countenanced. Anything to prevent this from happening was to be done, and this was all too easily possible.

Promptly, out of the woodwork, came all sorts of creatures who, zombie-like, would openly stalk us on the streets, in restaurants and cafes, public transport, shops and at the workplace - to pry, physically intimidate and proffer threats – on a continuous basis.

In public places, no matter where we sat, individuals would tag along, and sit themselves closely around us, conspicuously staring at us all the time. They would tail our car or follow us on public transport, in a manner designed to let us know they were there. We were bumped and jostled on the platforms of underground stations in such a way so as to give the impression that they were going to push us in front of the incoming train.

Thugs, haggard looking and bedraggled, like illegal immigrants after a long and rough journey to the West or ex-convicts recently released from jail, would walk past us on the street and abruptly turn around to proffer insults and threats - warning that we would soon be homeless, jobless, disabled or dead.
Various individuals loitered outside our Brussels home; flashlights were shone at our windows at night.
On returning home after outings there was sometimes a feeling that someone had been there in our absence and, on a number of occasions, we found that objects inside our house had inexplicably been broken or displaced.

Sometimes what we discussed inside (or outside) our house, no matter how personal, certain ‘work colleagues’ would also discuss the next day. They would repeat, almost word for word, fragments of the conversations we had exchanged in the privacy of our home, and even poke fun at some of our topics and at the surprise that their ‘telepathic qualities’ aroused. Details of our car journeys, including deviations from the route or halts taken would also be mentioned or hinted at, in passing.

Personal biographies were uncovered and thrashed out without courtesy or discretion by the same individuals. Smears were circulated in the background. Being conspicuous and offensive must have been, we reckon, a key part of their role.

Our car was tampered with, and only by a stroke of luck unpleasant consequences were averted.
Our communications were crudely monitored, as we ourselves could hear, and, in some instances, our phone calls and mail were diverted.

Our acquaintances, friends and family were also intruded upon and, at work, we were placed within a buffer of chosen and 'trusted friends’, while the rest of our work colleagues somehow knew they had to keep their distance, as if we had been under strict quarantine for some highly contagious disease.

Some of the locally hired domestic help and service contractors, after gaining access to our home, took the opportunity to snoop around and, on a few occasions, attempted to openly bully or intimidate us.
Even some of our friends were made to deliver thinly veiled warnings so as to convince us to remain silent.

All of a sudden, food poisoning became a frequent occurrence; medical tests would start to go wrong and be unnecessarily painful, we would be more often mistakenly overcharged for the cost of services and utilities, and every little enterprise we were engaged in would become ever more difficult and stressful.

A well-coordinated campaign of harassment by work associates, public bodies and various others was conducted with - though in some rare laudable cases without - zeal. “Everybody can be bought”, one insider intimated referring to what was going on.
We wondered how much this charade was costing and who was able to sponsor such an extensive operation; “Zee Inglish pay”, another insider jovially informed us.

Eventually, we discovered that these measures had not merely been sanctioned, but were instigated from within the highest levels of the British administration.
We considered making appeal to the law, but that was not going to be easy. Conversations with our solicitor were also crudely monitored, and then, one day, he decided abruptly to drop us as clients.

Lawyers, independent organisations and even some of the journalists whom we had eventually managed to contact for assistance admitted more or less openly that there was little they could do or had the courage to try, while, as someone explained, “they can do anything, just like in the X and Y cases”.

Occasionally, temptations would be laid before us, bribes and sweeteners discreetly offered, and the prospect of a carefree and comfortable existence subtly promised in return for our capitulation.
I myself have received thousands of pounds on a government contract, which, as it later turned out, did not actually make it possible or require me to deliver anything, but just to relax and get paid.
When the bribery did not work, hostilities were resumed and our professional careers were wrecked.

This is not going to last forever, the right-minded majority will not tolerate such regime for very much longer“, we thought at the time; “Don’t underestimate the voters’ credulity and the ruthlessness of the system” a cynic commented.

It is of course hard to describe in detail everything we have learned about the tactics of our new masters, what this brief account refers to being just a prelude to our subsequent experiences in Britain, which turned out to be a lot harsher.
We will, of course, continue, as we must, with the sequel and try to reveal a few more details about the Gaul saga and its ever-expanding cover-up.
I am pretty sure, however, that what we came across were only a few manifestations of the abusive power that the system has at its disposal, as I am also sure that we are not the only ones to have experienced them.

It is important to reveal these things to the public because they are not only about a fishing trawler and the betrayal of its victims; they are also about the rest of us and, more importantly, about our democracy, which is now slipping through our fingers, like the precious water of Choaspes.


[1] Tony Blair is now set to become the first President of the European Council.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ireland, where are you going?

Today, Ireland votes again on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty while, with bated breath, we are all waiting to see whether or not theirs will be the final democratic act to take place in Europe.
We are anxious to learn whether the Irish people are now willing to sacrifice their freedoms to the illusion of some borrowed prosperity, or whether, firm in the belief that they meant No when they said No first time around, they will deliver the same answer.
Sadly, the odds are that, this time, Ireland will take the route which leads to super-state, undemocratic, Europe, and into the welcoming arms of President Blair.

Monday, September 14, 2009

FV Trident – the upcoming court drama

The FV Trident inquiry is expected to start in October this year. Meanwhile, relatives of the crew, it has been announced, will submit an expert [1] report suggesting that stability problems were a contributing factor to the capsize and loss of the vessel.
There is also, of course, the official joint report, compiled by a 14-man expert panel, which, we are told, attributes the loss of the Trident to ‘seakeeping problems’.
These differences of opinion on what caused the tragedy are likely to add further delays to the formal inquiry.
Although we have not seen either of the above-mentioned reports, we would like to venture a couple of preliminary observations on the subject:
First, the seakeeping ability of a vessel - which the panel of experts in the Trident inquiry are geared up to blame for the tragedy - is a composite notion, vague enough and large enough to embrace a number of possibilities. Unlike stability, there is no agreed or regulatory yardstick attached to ‘seakeeping’ above which a vessel can be deemed to be safe. Hence, pointing the finger at seakeeping is almost like saying that the vessel did not perform well, that something was wrong with the vessel, without explaining what that was.
In such a case, it is to be expected that cause and effect and, therefore, blame and liability would be rather difficult to establish. [2]
And second, it would be very unfair if the expert reports attached to this public inquiry were not to be made public. Having paid, so far, no less than £3 million for the research into the causes of the Trident disaster, the taxpayer deserves full access to that information.
Anyway, as we have mentioned before, we will be taking a keen interest in the developments of this inquiry, and we hope that officialdom will not be tempted to try their luck again and replicate the travesties of justice that were the Gaul and Derbyshire formal inquiries.
[1] Expert report on stability deficiencies by Mr Martin Pullinger, naval architect with over 30 years of experience with Burness Corlett & Partners – a marine consultancy firm who provided technical advice to the Gaul and Derbyshire formal investigations.
[2] This is perhaps the first indication of possible government interference in what should be an impartial technical process.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Unfinished Business

One of the main reasons for carrying out a Formal Investigation into a shipping disaster is to determine its causes so that safety lessons can be learned and action taken to prevent similar tragedies re-occurring. Following the Gaul and Derbyshire inquiries we have found out, however, that this is not really the case: the protection of the financial interests of a few political and corporate operators have primacy over all other considerations, including safety.
In the run up to the 2004 Gaul and 2000 Derbyshire formal investigations, and subsequently, a lot of public money was spent and a lot of work was carried out in order to determine the causes of these two maritime disasters and to propose new measures that would improve safety. The causes for the tragedies were well obscured and, as for the safety measures recommended during those two inquiries, when it came to the final stage - the implementation or concrete action stage – matters, somehow, fizzled out.
Trawler Gaul lost in 1974 with all 36 crew
It is doubtful whether the four safety recommendations that came out of the Gaul 2004 Re-opened Formal Investigation (RFI) will ever come into effect. They had not been implemented in January 2007 when we first raised this matter [link] and they have not been implemented since.
The fact that the four safety recommendations, put forward by Justice Steel (the Wreck Commissioner in the Gaul RFI), are based upon false premises, are inappropriate and will therefore not be effective in preventing future loss of life, may be one of the reasons why the Government prefers them to be shelved and quietly forgotten.
OBO MV Derbyshire lost in 1980 with all 44 persons onboard
The Formal Investigation into the loss of the MV Derbyshire concluded in 2000 and its final report was published on 8 November of that year. The principal finding and recommendation to come out from the Derbyshire RFI was that the regulations for hatch cover strength were seriously deficient and that the International Convention on Load Lines (1966) needed to be amended urgently to rectify this shortfall.
The regulations of the Load Line Convention were thus redrafted at IMO to include requirements for specially strengthened hatch covers to be fitted to the forward cargo holds of all new cargo ships (not only bulk carriers). The new amendments were finalised at IMO [*] in 2002 and came into force Internationally in 2005.
However, they did not legally come into force for UK flagged vessels at the same time because the UK’s own Merchant Shipping legislation had not been amended to give legal force to the new Load Line Convention requirements for hatch covers. Today, the legislation still has not been revised.
The relevant UK rules are contained in Statutory Instrument (SI) 1998 No. 2241: The Merchant Shipping (Load Line) Regulations 1998.

There is no reason why these rules could not have been amended in a timely manner; in fact, the UK Load Line regulations were recently modified by Statutory Instrument (SI) 2005 No. 2114, so as to implement the following changes:
“……… in the definition of "pleasure vessel" or "pleasure craft", as the case may be, for each reference to "husband or wife" substitute "spouse or civil partner".
Now, that was extremely important - and also revealing of our government’s legislative priorities as regards Maritime safety.

[*] International Maritime Organisation

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Payment in nature

On the 18th of February 1974, in an interview with ITN News, David Shenton, the National Fisheries Officer for the Transport and General Workers Union, said that lack of evidence [1] about what had happened to the Hull trawler Gaul on the day it disappeared could cost the families of her 36 crewmen as much as £312,000 each [2] .
His statement [3], made just 10 days after the loss of the vessel, managed to crystallise, in a few words, the crux of the matter, which, for the next 35 years, would deny the general public the facts behind the vessel’s loss, and the families of the crew the right to know what happened to their loved ones.

It is now evident that it was not a submarine, a cold war spy-ship encounter, official secrets or hijack and capture by the Russians that had prevented the truth about this tragedy from emerging (these were just convenient ‘red herrings’ made up for the excitement of the public); it was money - purely and simply - and the British Establishment’s unwillingness to pay what amounted to a considerable sum, even though this was proper, fair and legally due to the victims’ families.

The reluctance of both governments and private companies to pay legal damages to injured parties is well-known, and has a long and colourful history in the maritime business world; what is particularly sickening, however, in the Gaul and other recent cases is the shoddiness of the tactics employed to circumvent the law: the cynical setbacks, the unnecessary delays, the long and costly legal battles, the blatant lies and, despite the recent disclosures, the persistent suppression of the truth, all of which go far beyond reasonable prudence and concern for the interests of shareholders and taxpayers.

But what is, perhaps, even more disturbing is the ease, the audacity and the extent to which the ‘cartel’ of politicians, businesses, insurers, civil servants, law firms and the judiciary are nowadays prepared to collude in order to prevent the payment of lawful compensation to those who have suffered such terrible losses.
In the Gaul case, this collusion led to a dubious but costly public inquiry, which, contrary to the available evidence, laid the blame for the tragedy with the crew.

A decade ago, in the debate about the limitation of liability for the maritime industry, justice David Steel placed himself firmly on the side of the shipping and insurance industries, whose financial interests he considered more important than fair compensation to claimants for damages caused by shipping mishaps.
The same justice Steel was then appointed to chair the 2004 Re-opened Formal Investigation into the sinking of the Gaul, which, surprisingly, found no fault with the vessel and, therefore, no grounds for subsequent compensation claims by the victims’ families.

Of course, a fine balance between safety and profitability has to be struck, no one wants the shipping or the insurance industries to go bust, but “at no time should any innocent party be expected to subsidize any business by their personal loss”, [4] nor should a formal legal process to be turned into a farce.

[1] Simply put, as long as there was no firm evidence concerning the loss of the Gaul, liability could not be established and there could be no compensation for the dependents.

[2] About £3.5million in present day worth

[3] Unfortunately the families were soon to lose their champion as Mr Shenton passed away shortly thereafter. Mr James Johnson paid the following tribute to Mr Shenton in the House of Commons on 5 April 1976: “The late David Shenton, National Fisheries Officer for the Transport and General Workers' Union—whose untimely death is a great loss to the industry—did a great deal for the fishermen in Hull.”

[4] Serge Killingbeck, SCU Law Review Volume 3 November 1999

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The culture of callousness

It is common knowledge that the measure of a civilised society is given by the way in which it cares for its weakest members. Judged by that measure, I’m afraid, today’s Britain would not score very high - the sympathetic activities of our so-called social-democratic regime being more declamatory than real.

A culture of callousness seems instead to have pervaded Britain, the latest and most shocking example of which being the disgraceful treatment of the soldiers wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As if possessed by some ungodly avarice, the government has adopted the moral philosophy of the money-changers, and has now the audacity to take those wounded in war to Court, for the purpose of minimising their injury compensations.
Taking from the most deserving and giving to the least - this is what the squandering of public money on frivolous schemes and dubious contracts, rather than paying for the state’s most basic obligations, equates to.
The whole charade of leaving the MOD to handle competing financial obligations on a fixed, limited, budget is just an unseemly subterfuge; the government could very well set up a separate, special, fund to settle the claims of the military and avoid this ugly and ungenerous quarrel.

Also nowadays there appears to be a stigma attached to any search for compensation – as if all those seeking to obtain financial redress for their losses were some kind of system spongers or benefit cheats.
The so-called ‘culture of compensation’ that many within the British Establishment often decry is, in fact, the normal application of the law; it is not charity.
The right to compensation represents one of the principal checks and balances that society has created so as to ensure that its weakest members have some protection against the might of the strong.
What is more, the prospect of litigation can make both governments and private employers much more careful when dealing with human lives.
Our government should be able to recognize these factors and strike a fair balance between ethics and their various financial priorities.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lord Woolf’s concerns

In December 2004, at the time when the Gaul RFI concluded and produced its final report, Lord Woolf, then Lord Chief Justice, was clashing with the government, an article published in the Times informed us, over a “matter of principle”.
The matter in question was Lord Woolf’s view – a view shared by other judges apart from the Lord Chancellor – that the final decision as to whether or not High Court judges should chair public inquiries, and who should be appointed to such duties, must necessarily rest with the head of the judiciary.
Lord Woolf was concerned that “public confidence in the judiciary’s independence could be harmed if judges were drawn into politically sensitive public inquiries” [*] where they could be seen as siding with the government, and that the separation of powers might be consequently compromised.
Lord Woolf was of the opinion that not all public inquiries were apt to be chaired by judges and that, from some cases of a “politically sensitive nature”, judges ought to stay well away.
Lord Woolf’s objections had been sparked, we were told, by the negative public reaction to the conclusions of Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of the Government weapons expert David Kelly.
The Times article also listed the 13 inquiries which had been chaired by judges since 1997, and which included the sinking of the MV Derbyshire, FV Gaul and the Marchioness.

What struck us about Lord Wolf’s arguments, however, was the fact that his Lordship appeared more in favour of the judiciary skirting the politically sensitive cases rather than accepting the challenges they presented, giving thus the impression that the judges wanted both to have their cake and eat it… that is to remain both virtuous – preferably through non-exposure rather than as a result of personal endeavour - and on good terms with the government of the day.

And, reverting to the unfortunate case of the Gaul RFI, one feels tempted to ask, why is it that some of our judges, whose righteousness Lord Woolf was so keen to protect, having already sided with the government and having already been seen doing so, are still unwilling to make amends?

Are not our judges supposed to be the heroic defenders of the law’s basic commitments against the encroachments of politics? Is judging no longer concerned, as judge William E. Werner once explained, “with the romance of perseverance, of pluck and back bone”?


[*] Woolf wants final say over inquiries, The Times, December 15, 2004

Saturday, June 27, 2009

New Inquiry into the loss of FV Trident

The wreck of the FV Trident, which sank off the Caithness coast 35 years ago, was found by amateur divers in 2001.
This discovery, and the fact that the victims’ families had never accepted the conclusions of the previous investigation into the tragedy, prompted the former Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Byers) to order the re-opening the formal investigation into her loss. This was in 2002.
Inexplicably, it then took our government seven years to set up this new investigation, which is now, finally, to be opened on October 19, 2009.
It is, however, very fortunate that the new inquiry will be conducted under the chairmanship of Sir Stephen Young QC, Sheriff Principal of Grampian Highland and Islands.
In 2002, Sir Stephen, then sheriff of Paisley, headed the investigation into the 1994 Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash and had the fortitude to openly dismiss the idea of pilot error, stating in his report that the conclusions of the RAF investigation, which had put the blame for the fatal accident on the crew, were "flawed".
The appointment of Sir Stephen should therefore be taken as a good omen.
We, on our part, will be following the proceedings and direction of the Trident investigation with great interest.

Monday, June 15, 2009


(Following on from our post of 23 April 2009)
The government's 'subtle' campaign of harassment continues as before, only now it would appear that the NHS, under the guise of incompetence, has entered the game.
(More details to come)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

FV Trident - update

A year ago, in a post published on this site, we gave a brief account of the of FV Trident tragedy - the Peterhead-registered seine-net trawler which sank on 3 October 1974 with the loss of all seven men on board – and commented on the fact that 6 years after the decision to re-investigate the loss of the Trident had been taken, the RFI was not yet concluded.
At long last, as recently announced in the press, there is now some movement in the official investigation.
We do not know yet in which direction things are moving, but hope that the Department for Transport and those responsible for the conduct of this inquiry will have learnt a few lessons from the aftermath of the FV Gaul and MV Derbyshire Formal Investigations and that, this time around, the victims’ families will finally obtain justice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

League of villains extraordinaire

After many years of rampant extravaganza, our voracious politicians – once upon a time thought to be our betters –have, finally, been exposed.
Enthralled, day-by-day, we read of new revelations in the MPs’ expenses scandal and witness the unseemly squirming of those caught with their hands in the till.
The fact that many of our representatives possess a guilty conscience has created a bond of solidarity across the political divides - a unity against the voters …a league of villains extraordinaire.
In such circumstances, of course, one cannot demand justice, because justice pleases neither side.
Overly preoccupied with their personal welfare, our representatives have no time for the electorate, and, incapable of grasping what is true and just, they cannot deliberate and act in the best interests of the nation.
As in many other instances of recently uncovered transgressions, when taken to account, the culprits blame the system - a system which, in fact, they have themselves designed, but which has now, allegedly, acquired a will of its own and - just like HAL 9000, the supercomputer on board the spaceship Discovery – has taken control of Parliament.
Yet, just changing the system is not going to solve our problems. No system, however secure and cleverly conceived, can protect us from the greed of our politicians, unless we, as a society, vigorously demand that only those able to act decently out of conviction should be given the chance to represent us.
To tighten the system without improving the quality of our legislators would be to act like in those lunatic asylums of the past, where they used to tie up their patients without ever treating their illnesses.
Only a moral society is capable of opposing a crooked regime, and, if we are still a moral society, then we must demand some serious changes. Just making a noise, naming and shaming, is not going to be enough.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Brazen but not brave

After 5 months of delays and prevarication, the Metropolitan Police felt finally able to release a copy of the document requested by us under the provisions of the FOI Act.

And this is how the released copy looks like:

The Met’s contention that obliterating most of the text in their ‘investigation report’ was necessary in order to protect ‘personal data’ is so absurd and so blatantly insincere that makes you wonder whether their response was meant to be, in fact, some sort of joke or mockery.
Anyhow, we took them seriously and sent another request, disproving their arguments and urging them to reconsider...
... although we have serious doubts as to their willingness and ability to serve the public interest in this matter.
Can the people of this country still trust the police force to offer them any protection against the criminal ‘elite’, or have the police, nowadays, been turned into a different species - something between the rogue army of a failed state and the timorous functionaries of a conquered nation?

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Trying to knock us off? Well, we may be a bit ruffled now, but we remain undeterred - the recent attacks against us having merely inflamed our determination and reinforced our resolve.
Also, the consequent pause I had to take from blogging over the past month gave me more time to ponder past events, so I would now like to recount how my first public disclosures about the Gaul RFI scandal were acted upon three years ago.
It was in the spring of 2006 when, after three and a half years of harassment, I decided that enough was enough and, taking advantage of the EU spring summit in Brussels (we were living there at the time) and having managed, on that day, to lose our regular ‘tail’, I sought out the press corps - gathered in the Belgian capital for the summit – and handed over leaflets containing a brief summary of the Gaul affair.
Soon afterwards, to extend the courtesy, I also approached a member of the British press who was familiar with the Gaul saga and who, I was told, had contacts with the largest of the Gaul protagonists: the right honourable John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister at the time and MP for Hull East. During conversations with that journalist, when asked about the other beneficiaries of my disclosures, I mentioned the names of a few of those contacted, giving, however, an incomplete account of the total number of recipients. The astonishing reply that I got in return was: “But we did not count so many”.
Taken aback by such unexpected admission, I forgot to ask who we were or what that counting involved. It might have been interesting to know.
Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, I asked the same journalist – who claimed to know the Deputy Prime Minister quite well – to contact Mr Prescott and try to persuade him to come clean about the Gaul, so that we might resolve this disgraceful matter in a slightly more dignified fashion.
Yes, I know the whole idea was laughable, but, sometimes, like the cowslip whose pretty yellow flowers can spring up in ditches and bogs, so virtue and contrition might blossom even in the most unlikely of human forms.
Unfortunately, this time, nothing came out of it. Nothing good that is. Within days, however, the news broke about Mr Prescott’s affair with his diary secretary – a story that would entertain the British public for some time.
To be continued…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Did you pack your bags yourself, Sir?

Our previous post revealed that, according to the Department for Transport, the only advice received by Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, the Transport Minister, in response to our complaint about the Gaul RFI, was the draft of his letter to the Shadow Transport Minister, as jotted down by some unnamed DfT officials.
Forgetting the candid Mr Fitzpatrick for a moment, we turn our attention again towards Mr Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Transport, for it is Mr Hoon himself who is obliged under the provisions of the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act to order a re-hearing of the Gaul RFI, if it “appears” to him that there are “grounds for suspecting that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.

In his recent statement (see HERE) the Secretary of State for Transport asserted that there were “no grounds for suspecting that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred” during the Gaul RFI, although - as his own Department currently maintains - the grounds put forward by us have never been properly examined.
In fact, Mr Hoon made sure that no adequate technical counsel was obtained, lest the ‘grounds for suspecting a miscarriage of justice’ would become too ‘apparent’ to him, obliging him to re-open the case. (That is assuming he didn’t know the truth already.)
His contrived ignorance of the matter may also be seen as a precautionary measure taken with a view to escaping future liability: if ever brought to account, Mr Hoon must have reckoned, he would be able to claim lack of knowledge about the technical basis of our arguments.

Thus, like the drug courier who refrains from looking in his suitcase, Mr Hoon has avoided asking for expert advice, shielding his eyes from any unwanted knowledge.
As a lawyer, however, Mr Hoon can be no ingénue in such legal matters and should be aware that this is not how things work in the normal world. Courts are known to have decreed many times in the past that the ignorance-pleading smuggler should have known, and they may likewise, one day, decide that Mr Hoon should have asked.

(Related POST)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Draft advice

The latest answer from the Department for Transport to one of our FOI requests contains an attractive twist.
Our initial query concerned the source of the technical advice given to the Transport Minister, Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, in response to our criticisms of the Gaul RFI.
In response, the DfT informs us that the exclusive source of that ‘advice’, which Mr Fitzpatrick claimed to have received in his letter to the Shadow Minister for Transport, was nothing else but the very draft of that letter – i.e. the one in which he declared himself advised…?!
Génial!! The DfT reply may not be very informative, but, one must admit, it has a notable artistic value.

The common practice, as far as I am aware, given that there are no marine specialists within the Department itself, is to seek technical counsel from one of the DfT’s agencies: i.e. the MCA [1] or the MAIB [2]. The DfT, however, informs us that “no request for additional information was made by the Minister”.
So which officials within the DfT assessed the technical evidence we had provided?
Are we to assume that, perhaps, the Shadow Minister for Transport was corresponding, in fact, with one of Mr Fitzpatrick’s typists?
Is it not more likely that, as it nowadays happens, the Minister outlined his politics-driven decision and then asked the DfT civil servants to draft his response along those lines? Common sense and experience tell us that no official would make ministerial decisions in his place – especially when the issues at stake are both complex and sensitive.
Whatever the case, the statement in Mr Fitzpatrick’s letter: “I am advised that there is no reason to re-open the investigation” now looks as though it had been intended to mislead his Opposition counter-part into assuming that, maybe, a great assembly of experts and scholars had been drawn in to review and offer advice on our criticism of the Gaul RFI.

Put together in one piece, all the correspondence received so far from the DfT looks like a Möbius strip: however attentively you follow it, you will always end up on the opposite side without crossing any boundary – a loop that takes you without interruption from back to front and front to back, without giving you any sign or orientation.

[1] Martime and Coastguard Agency
[2] Marine Accident Investigation Branch

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Delaying tactics

To our request for information, dated 22 October 2008, the Department for Transport is still struggling to provide a coherent reply. They have now postponed the conclusion of their second internal review on this FOI matter until the 27th of February 2009 (LINK). Four months for a simple question…!
No more forthcoming, the Metropolitan Police, have initially put off their response to our complaint until the 18th of February. We hope to complete our internal review no later than 18 February 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay we will contact you and update you as soon as possible, only to advise us on the 19th of February that, due to unforeseen circumstances, they had been unable to meet the response time and that We hope to complete our internal review no later than 27 February 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay we will contact you and update you as soon as possible (LINK). And so we are going on and on…
No matter that the Information Commissioner’s guidance to the FOI Act states clearly that “a reasonable time for completing an internal review is 20 working days from the date of the request for review” and that “in no case should the total time taken exceed 40 working days”, the Met have their own rhythm.
Cunning strategy, one might suspect: these cautious delaying tactics would give them more time for fixing ‘a few little things’ and limiting the embarrassment.
Somehow, I feel sorry for our humble public servants. In the quicksands of today’s politics, power struggles and uncertainty, they may find it difficult to decide when to stay still, when to jump, and which side of the fence to fall down on.
Besides, considering all the laws that our officials routinely defy nowadays, a breach of the FOI rules is a mere bagatelle.
UPDATE 1: On the 27th of February 2009, the Met sent us a surprise answer: "We hope to complete your review no later than 13 March 2009. Should there be any further delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible."
UPDATE 2: On the 13th of March the Met replied: "We hope to complete your review no later than 27 March 2009. This review is near completion and I will be in contact with you shortly to update you on the status of this case. Should there be any further delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible. "
UPDATE 3: And on the 27th of March the answer was: "We hope to complete your review no later than 17 April 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible."
UPDATE 4: On the 17th of April the Met duly informed us: "We hope to complete your review no later than 1 May 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

35 years

On the 8th of February, 35 years ago, the Gaul sank in the Barents Sea, during a severe storm. None of its 36 crew survived.

A few small notes in the 13 February 1974 edition of Lloyd’s List, reproduced below, gave the first details about the search for the missing trawler.

Over the following days, Lloyd’s List published several brief reports on the progress of the search operations:

The unsuccessful search for the Gaul was closed at 15.00 hours GMT on the 15th of February 1974.

On the 19th of February the Department of Trade and Industry ordered an official inquiry into the loss of the Gaul.

The last Nimrod search operation ordered by the Prime Minister on the 20th February 1974 ended two days later without success.

The wreck of the Gaul was only discovered twenty-three years later, in 1997.

In 2004, the Re-opened Formal Investigation into the loss of the vessel concluded that the 36 fishermen of the Gaul had died at their own hands.

Today, 35 years after the tragedy, the truth about what caused the loss of the Gaul still remains unacknowledged, walled inside a 21st century edifice of political spin.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Voting down the government’s proposed legislation, the Prime Minister warned, will have apocalyptic consequences: it will de-stabilise the government; it will de-stabilise the markets… it will make the earth roar and the abyss spew off its stench.
Meanwhile, the PM is taking great care not to de-stabilise himself and, to that effect, he is prepared to do away with formality.
He allocates cabinet jobs for political compromise rather than for the competence and suitability of the person employed, appoints as chief of the Met a New Labour favourite to placate those in his party who have reasons to fear the arm of the law, and procures fast-tracked seats in the Upper House, clumsily knocking over the barriers in his pursuit of short-term political gain.
Amazingly, now it appears that even John Prescott (the Hull MP who played a nefarious part in both the Gaul and the Derbyshire RFIs) is being re-habilitated and courted for political support. Acrimony in the House of Commons can’t be afforded at this time - it is politically much cheaper to whip up a scandal in the Lords, instead, and thus appear tough on corruption.
We would have hoped that the Prime Minister was able to carry his party along with him by the force of his talents and personality, not by peddling gongs, favours and immunities from prosecution. The PM has, of course, many other ways of stabilising his political tenure, but these are, perhaps, too fraught with risks and difficulties.
And, as the old wisdom goes, no one can really climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The necessary muck-out

This Wednesday, the clean-up of politics started in America with the pledge by the new US President to introduce new rules for openness and integrity in public life. Lucky Americans!
Here, unfortunately, things don’t look as promising. In recent years, the political structures have been contaminated by sleaze and corruption, with the Labour party taken over by rogues and opportunists, in much the same way that organised-crime racketeers infiltrated the Labour movement in the 1930s America. This phenomenon, albeit to a much smaller extent, has also gained ground inside the other political factions.
Politics in Britain is now seriously tainted, in need of a thorough cleansing, a revitalization of ethics and the reinstatement of the rule of law. Without firm action the decay will continue; it has already spread into many, once respectable, state institutions, and even some, more vulnerable, sections of society have now been corrupted by the humiliating dependence on the political power, and turned into tools of control for the state.
The malign influence of this state of affairs on the human character and dignity is growing alarmingly visible.
Ethics, it’s been said, becomes an issue only when things become dangerous; hence, with the coming recession, an ethical revival in British politics should be treated now as a matter of urgent priority.

To clean the stables and make it such that, in future, only the best men and women are eligible to represent us is, of course, a Herculean task – but not a task that a strong-willed political leader, and a good sweeping broom, would be unable to achieve.


“AUGEAS: But it makes a difference whether we muck out just a bit or whether we have a radical muck-out. If we muck out just a bit, after a year, the muck will stand as high as it stands now or even higher, considering the amount of it we produce. Therefore we have to muck out radically.” (Friedrich Dürenmatt, The Augean Stables)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Judge in his own cause

During the ill-famed Hutton inquiry, Geoff Hoon’s conduct was often described as “slippery” and “dishonest”. We couldn’t follow those events very closely, but we can relate how Mr Hoon, now Secretary of State for Transport, has conducted himself recently.

In a letter dated 17 December 2008 (see HERE), Mr Hoon made known his opposition towards a possible re-hearing of the Gaul Formal Inquiry.

In his elaborate message, the Transport Secretary sought to suggest that the evidence and analysis we had provided over the last three years was not of a quality and quantity that would undermine his confidence in the execution of the 2004 RFI. Consequently, with his confidence intact, Mr Hoon considered himself free from any obligation to have the results of the Gaul RFI re-examined.

Back in 2003, if I remember correctly, Mr Hoon didn’t used to be so demanding, and needed a lot less evidence to be able to claim, against the best experts’ advice, that two trailers found in Iraq were ‘mobile weapons laboratories’. That was a different kettle of fish, of course, but Mr Hoon’s variable stance towards evidence standards, somehow, undermines his credibility as trier of fact.

What intrigued us even more, however, was that, this time, Mr Hoon would reveal neither the source nor the substance of the technical advice that had underpinned his decision, offering us no other option than to take him at his word and rest assured that the hint of political embarrassment or scandal was not a factor in his weighty deliberations, deflecting him from his pursuit of the public good.

(We have, of course, replied to Mr Hoon’s letter, and our response can be read at this link or here.)

Sadly, what follows from the Transport Secretary’s position is that, whenever the results of a government-led public inquiry are contested, no matter how compelling the evidence adduced, it is solely up to the government to decide whether or not those results should be re-examined, and it is totally in the government’s power to cloak their decision-making from public view and independent scrutiny.

I wonder, on a large scale, what the consequences of this trend are going to be.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

More about MV Derbyshire

This is to wish you all a Happy New Year and to let you know that we have just published a new post on the MV Derbyshire blog [1].
In this latest commentary we show that the hatch covers on the Derbyshire complied neither with the minimum strength requirements of the International Load Line Convention 66 nor with the standards of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping that were in force at the time of the vessel’s build. These non-compliances, which could have been a crucial factor in the loss of the vessel, were ‘overlooked’ during 2000 RFI, the final report of which stated: “7.16 At the time of the DERBYSHIRE’s last voyage her hatch covers complied with the minimum strength requirements of ILLC 66 and of the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping Rules”, and concluded that it was a severe deficiency within those standards that allowed the vessel’s hatch covers to be built with inadequate strength, thus making their failure and the subsequent loss of the vessel in heavy seas possible.
However, independent strength calculations (presented in detail on the MV Derbyshire blog), carried out both through classical methods and by means of finite element analysis, show that the strength of the hatch covers fell short even of the minimum requirements that were set in those “deficient” 1966 standards.
Whether or not the vessel would have been lost if the construction of the hatch covers had conformed to the rules applicable at that time - insufficient as they were - is, furthermore, debateable. Placing the blame on the ‘regulations’, however, as the 2000 RFI so kindly did, made further debate redundant and removed the risk of subsequent commercial litigation for the vessel’s Shipbuilders and the Classification Society.

[1] The Derbyshire Re-opened Formal Investigation bears many similarities with the Gaul Re-opened Formal Investigation – not the least of which is the fact that both investigations were presided over by judges who were acknowledged experts in the field of maritime commercial litigation.
Why was it that these two public inquiries, supposedly aimed only at finding the truth, were set up in this way?