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