Thursday, December 23, 2010

FV Trident Investigation - the paper trail (part 3)

Some comments on the MAIB’s 'summary report'

Although in our previous post we advised that we wouldn’t like to embarrass the MAIB by commenting on the technical content of the summary document they recently released, having subsequently learned that, in September 2009, the MAIB had also tried to pass off this very same document to the relatives of the Trident’s crew as being a copy of Admiral Lang’s official report to the Secretary of State for Transport, we have decided that, in these circumstances, we ought to change our minds.

When we first received this document, a document we did not request, we questioned the MAIB’s Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents on its status and suitability for publication, we also suggested that the ‘report’ was incomplete, not impartial and that an inspector, who was probably not competent to make pronouncements on Trident’s stability, had drafted it.

We received the following reply:

…..My position is that you made a valid request for information that we hold. The report you refer to is in our files and, in my view, I was obliged to consider whether it could be released. I have made my decision in good faith…….. However, I do find offensive your suggestion that any MAIB employee was not impartial or was incompetent. In the 6 years I have worked for the Branch I have been more than impressed by the commitment, enthusiasm and pure talent of my staff……
………I do not intend to debate this issue with you any further.
(Steve Clinch, MAIB Chief Inspector)

A copy of this MAIB document is available in pdf format HERE; we have also reproduced a few representative paragraphs below, together with our comments – which question the MAIB’s impartiality and competence in matters pertaining to Trident’s stability:

Page 3

  • The most important point here (omitted by the Inspector) was that in 1975 the Court of Investigation had already concluded that the stability of the vessel was probably deficient; this was not mere speculation by the next of kin and the media.

Page 12

  • The Inspector has stated here that Trident’s sister vessel had only minor stability deficiencies and that when she sailed in a similar condition to the Trident (as lost), she had adequate stability – thus implying that Trident also had adequate stability. However, the Inspector has omitted to mention the fact that, in the conditions he quotes, the Silver Lining had already been provided with an additional 8 tons of pig iron ballast to counter her stability deficiencies - Trident did not have this ballast onboard at the time she was lost.
    Additionally, after having read the report of the 1975 Formal Investigation, his summary report should have taken account of the Court’s views on the Silver Lining’s stability (page 6):
    Without going in detail into the owner’s complaints regarding Silver Lining, it must be noted that despite the addition of 8 tons of ballast, her stability is still in considerable doubt.
  • On page 15 the Inspector also implies that, following Trident’s loss, the reason why Silver Lining was laid up and lengthened by 10 feet was because of factors other than deficient stability (i.e., difficulty in getting a crew and for insurance purposes, which are consequences of the vessel’s deficient stability rather than direct causes of her lay-up and lengthening).

Page 16

  • Here the Inspector seems ready to accept that Trident’s stability was adequate based upon the testimony of her owner. We have carried out a simple stability check and ascertained that the Trident would have capsized in any of her sailing conditions, if the powerblock had borne a direct load of 26 tons, as described above. In any case, the gear on Trident was incapable of a direct lift of such magnitude and would have probably failed before capsizing.

  • The Inspector again has made a statement that cannot be supported by analysis. We have carried out a brief calculation and found that, if the net (weighing about 1.3 tons) shifted to port or starboard by 2.5m, the vessel would have heeled by about 2 degrees (i.e. not a large angle of heel)

The underlying tone of this document, recently released by MAIB, seems to be that the families of the deceased and the media have somehow exaggerated the possibility that Trident had been deficient in stability.
The fact that this MAIB document plays down the principal conclusion of the original investigation (OFI) regarding the Trident’s stability, and the fact that the outcomes from the NMI Trident model tests, which added weight to that conclusion, have not even been mentioned, raise further questions as to its objectivity and impartiality.

In a previous communication to us, the Chief Inspector of Accidents admitted, that the MAIB reports only had the legal status of OPINION. In that case, we would argue that the public does not really wish to pay out a lot of money for casualty investigations that only deliver DfT opinions; what they would prefer, to be sure, is to receive information as to what actually happened and the reasons why an accident occurred – delivered promptly from an impartial and competent source.

(More to come)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

FV Trident Investigation - the paper trail (part 2)

Our latest dealings with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) have not been very fruitful. (Not that they have been fruitful in the past, when we approached them in connection with the Gaul RFI.)

Conceding to our request for information on the role that MAIB played in the run up to the Trident RFI, the head of the MAIB has sent us four documents - one of which wishes itself to be a summary of the MAIB’s views on the loss of the Trident following their underwater survey of the wreck and prior to the re-opening of the official investigation in 2002.

The document in question records some generalities relating to the Trident accident, a few anecdotes of disputable value, a fairly absurd technical assertion (we won’t reproduce it here so as not to embarrass the MAIB staff), an inaccurately justified denial of Trident’s stability problems, and an ambivalent statement as to whether the FV Trident formal inquiry warranted a re-opening in accordance with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act.

This was in no way the robust recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport that, as announced at the time in the press, you might have believed the re-opening of the Trident inquiry had been based on. No, we are led to think that the MAIB left it to the politicians to decide this for themselves, unencumbered by a definite technical viewpoint[*]
The MAIB’s experts’ only judgement was that new evidence about the vessel had been found (quite obvious, since the wreck had recently been located and surveyed), but they couldn’t say whether or not that new evidence was important enough to give grounds for another formal inquiry. What the MAIB also omitted to add was that the discovery of the wreck in itself tended to reinforce the conclusion of the original inquiry that: “inadequate stability is the factor most likely to underlie her foundering in conditions which would not normally have overwhelmed a ship of her size”

(Well, we know now that the evidence most relevant to the cause of the loss - the National Maritime Institute’s model tests and research - was not new, except to the families and the public. The results from the NMI research, coupled with the discovery of the wreck should have been reason enough to allow the inquiry to be re-opened and to conclude that: “inadequate stability led to her foundering in conditions which would not normally have overwhelmed a ship of her size.”)

Now, going back to the released MAIB documents, we have also noted that their brief summary on the Trident did not refer to the NMI research data on the Trident’s stability – that very interesting file that the DfT claims to have shredded. Although the MAIB had to admit that they had had unrestricted access to all the official documents related to the vessel, they only mentioned the A. Morrall technical paper - ‘Capsizing of small trawlers’, which is a sort of sanitised derivative of the original NMI research on the Trident.

Well, well, who can seriously believe that such a top organisation as the MAIB would not have used the real data contained in the DfT’s official files?!

Anyway, what caught our eyes above all that was the fact that the MAIB’s summary, apart from being fanciful and superficial, looked as though it had been made ad-hoc, to entertain us. The document had no date, no author, and the MAIB’s Chief Inspector did not even know whether and to whom it had been addressed. He just found it somewhere “in the system”. (Well, if this document was compiled or modified after our request for information and specially for that purpose, then, I think, this sort of undertaking has a rather unpleasant name to it…)

And that is all we’ve learned from UK’s prestigious Marine Accident Investigation Branch. To find out more, the Chief Inspector advised us, would cost more than £600. Furthermore, we were also told, the “the key players involved in the MAIB’s work have since left the organisation.” That is exactly what the Head of Shipping Policy in the Department for Transport told us once, in response to our questions about of the Gaul RFI.
Just like the tribal chief who said to his visitors: we no longer have any cannibals in our tribe - we ate the last one yesterday…

(More to come…)

[*] Apparently, an unequivocal recommendation for the re-opening of the investigation came from a non-technical quarter, namely, from the Office of the Advocate General in Scotland.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

FV Trident Inquiry - The MAIB leaves no traces

As we announced in our post of 15 November 2010, we lodged a FOI request with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) of the Department for Transport asking them a few simple questions aimed at clarifying their role in the FV Trident Investigation.

The response from MAIB, which we received yesterday does not clarify anything. What is more, it gives the false impression that the MAIB did not play any technical role (or keep any records of its role) in the run up to the Trident RFI, and goes on to suggest that, even if it had played such a role, this ought to remain an official secret.
To bolster their equivocation, the MAIB misinterprets the Merchant Shipping (Accident Reporting and Investigations) Regulations 2005 and tries to apply the prohibition clause therein, not only to the content of restricted documents or evidence[*], witness statements, or the personal details of any persons making such statements, but also to the question of whether they hold such evidence in their coffers.
Notable, however, is their reluctance even to address our query about any advice the MAIB might have provided to the DfT and the Office of the Advocate General for Scotland, in the run up to the Trident RFI.

As this blog bears witness, we have had encounters with the MAIB before, in connection with the Gaul investigation, and they were just as unhelpful. So it does not surprise us in the slightest to read their attempt at obfuscation in the Trident case now.

Well, as they say, 'once your reputation’s gone, you can live a life of fun'. And this is the obvious trend in most of our governmental institutions today.

[*] The Sheriff presiding over the FV Trident RFI has, nevertheless, the powers to call for such prohibited documents and evidence.

Friday, December 03, 2010

FV Trident Investigation – the paper trail (part 1)

In our post of 17 October 2010, we referred to a statement by Department for Transport in which they advised that the DfT’s shipping safety research folder Ref. No. MS/92/12/09, which contained information about the stability of the Trident, had been routinely destroyed, apparently, like many other official documents that are no longer deemed relevant to current goings-on.

At the same time, the Trident victims’ families had also requested the Department to provide them with the title and information about the contents of this folder. After much delay, the Department for Transport answered these questions by admitting, simply, almost casually, that the title of that file had been “Intact Stability in relation to Trident PD 111” and that, although they “no longer hold information on what was contained in the file”, “clearly, from the title of the file, this would have been information relating to the stability of the Trident.”[*]
Hey, the official might have added, and what are you going to do about that?

So we now have it confirmed that the file in question contained information on the very issue that has lain at the heart of the original and current public inquiries, and which the latest investigation has been trying hard to avoid making a correct pronouncement on.

Anyway, on the subject of the 'shredded file', more is yet to come…

[*] The Trident victims’ families’ FOI request and the answer provided by the DfT can be viewed at the following site: