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.

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