Monday, February 28, 2011

FV Trident RFI - A question

We have a question that nobody seems willing to answer and which is: why nobody from the Department for Transport, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, MAIB and the former DOT was ever called to give evidence under oath during the Trident RFI hearings?

FV Trident RFI - a costly farce

The Trident RFI followed the same script as the Gaul RFI - to the letter.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

FV Trident RFI - “No evidence was led at the inquiry…”

Perhaps the most important question for the RFI, once it had established that the Trident had capsized in sea conditions that were not exceptional and that her intact stability was deficient, was whether full compliance with the IMCO minimum stability standard would have prevented Trident’s capsize and the loss of seven lives.

Unfortunately, this was one critical question that the RFI's investigators were unwilling to answer. They were prepared to answer questions that skirted this central issue, they also touched upon matters on the fringes of this issue and were happy to pontificate at great length about many things that seemed to be related, but in fact deflected attention elsewhere.

Perhaps the nearest we can get to a straight answer on this important point is contained within the Sheriff's comments in Para [41] of his final report:

The first question here is what changes would have had to have been made to the design and construction of the Trident to secure full compliance with the IMCO recommended criteria when she was built. No evidence was led at the inquiry, which would allow me to answer this question, so it is impossible to hold that, if she had been built so as to secure full compliance with these criteria, she would not have been lost.

But surely, Your Honour, as you were in charge of this £7m inquiry, you should have given directions that evidence be obtained and led on this matter?

You were eager to dismiss the results of the 1976 NMI model tests, the report from which, co-incidentally, showed that Trident would have survived if the IMCO Stability criteria had been met. In the words of Dr A. Morrall:

Experiments in breaking waves were repeated and no capsize was obtained. Test periods of up to 1 hour full scale were carried out. Motions were extremely severe and decks were very wet and an impression was gained that limiting conditions for survival had been reached.

Instead we have been asked to accept the conclusions that were drawn by a panel of experts, whose objectivity can be disputed, from a very limited and questionable set of test results from the MARIN test facility in Holland.


Why was the Trident model NOT tested at the MARIN test facility in a condition representing full IMCO compliance so as to see whether or not she would capsize?

If tests had been carried out in this condition, then we would have had a straightforward and conclusive answer to the main question above.

This would not have been a difficult or expensive test to arrange, and it would have provided concrete evidence for the RFI. In fact, when a similar test was carried out at the NMI test facility in 1976 Dr Morrall commented: "this was achieved quite easily by rearranging the ballast inside the model and carrying out an inclining experiment to check"

Perhaps we already know the reasons why evidence was not sought or allowed on this point. The OAG, DfT, Seafish and a number of other parties just did not want to hear the answer that:

If Trident had met the IMCO minimum stability standard, she would have survived.

More to come…….

Saturday, February 26, 2011

FV Trident RFI - The development risks defence [*]

In earlier posts, concerning the Derbyshire and the Gaul disasters [], we have highlighted the fact that formal investigations into maritime casualties are mainly driven, not by a desire to seek out the truth of the matter, but by the over-arching principle that any form of litigation ,which could be harmful to Government or the British Establishment, must be avoided at all costs.

We have now seen that, throughout the Trident RFI, this principle has remained the primary driver of events.

An example of this can be seen in Question 5, posed by the AG: 
5. At the commencement of her last voyage was the Trident unseaworthy (as determined by the standards which applied in 1974)…

This question enabled the Sheriff to give a ruling, which would support the ‘development risks defence’ argument, in any future product liability case, where compensation was sought.

His response, in paragraph [49], states:

What happened to the Trident on the day of her loss was not reasonably foreseeable to anyone in light of the knowledge and understanding of the design and construction of seagoing vessels available at the time.

While the clear intention of the Sheriff’s statement is to support any future ‘development risks defence’ argument, the statement in itself is clearly nonsense. In 1974, fishing vessel capsizes were an all too frequent occurrence and what happened to the Trident was, in fact, foreseeable; that is why, at that time in the UK, there was a requirement for fishing vessels to be designed and constructed to meet the IMCO minimum stability standard.

It is our belief that public inquiries should be about seeking the truth, not about providing cover for potential defendants.



FV Trident - Design faults

The FV Trident had significant deficiencies in her stability reserves that remained unresolved from the time she was delivered in 1973 until she capsized in 1974. This factor has been glossed over in the Sheriff’s final RFI report published this week.

The Trident should have been designed and built to meet the requirements of the building specification and contract. This contract, amongst other things, stipulated that the Trident should satisfy the IMCO recommended minimum standard for intact stability (this criterion within the build contract had been included as a pre-condition to significant Governmental grant aid towards Trident’s building costs – an important issue at that time and part of an initiative to try and improve the fishing industry’s appalling safety record)

Unfortunately, upon completion of building, the Trident sailed from the builder's yard without undergoing an inclining experiment and the actual status of her stability reserves, vis-à-vis compliance with the IMCO minimum stability standard, remained a factor that was ignored until a detailed investigation into her actual stability reserves was carried out following her loss.

Subsequent stability calculations during 1975-8 and within the past decade have all indicated that Trident did not meet her contractual stability standard. The findings contained within the 2011 RFI report have now also confirmed that this was indeed the case:

A statement by the Sheriff Principal on this particular issue is contained in Para [46]:

I have already discussed the significance of the fact that, as designed and built, the Trident did not comply fully with the IMCO recommended criteria.

An indication of just how serious this stability shortfall was may be gleaned from the fact that significant structural modification work was required for her sister vessel, the Silver Lining, before she was finally able to meet the required standard and allowed to sail.

A further indicator of the magnitude of Trident’s stability shortfall, is also given by the Sheriff himself (perhaps inadvertently) in paragraph [41] of his report:

…I am advised by Mr Macwhirter (and Professor Macfarlane at one point in his evidence appeared to support this) that all that would have been required in the design of the Trident to secure full compliance with the IMCO recommended criteria would have been a modest increase in the depth of her hull amidships of the order of 0.3 to 0.4 metres reducing to zero at the bow and the stern

We would suggest that a 'modest' increase in the depth of the Trident’s steel hull of 0.3 to 0.4m (i.e. a 10% increase in her depth) would have resulted in a totally different ship being built. One that would have had significantly improved intact stability reserves, as well as ‘specific sea-keeping characteristics’ markedly different from that of the hull that capsized.

The Advocate General and a number of the parties in the current investigation have sought to cloud these issues by raising number of related questions and offering a multitude of views that cannot be supported by the overriding facts of her loss. The Sheriff has now confirmed that he was willing to go along with this charade.

Some examples:

The Advocate General, in questions 8(b)(i) and (ii) sought the Court’s views on whether the Trident possessed intact stability characteristics that were in 'substantial compliance' with those recommended for fishing vessels by the DTI and DOT (i.e. the IMCO standard). The Sheriff was happy to provide positive answers to these questions in paragraph [29] of his report.

Note: The building specification and contract called for compliance with IMCO requirements not just ‘substantial compliance’. If it takes lengthening the ship by 10 feet or increasing its depth by 1.5 feet in order to obtain full compliance, then the difference between the DOT’s understanding of ‘substantial compliance’ and full compliance is rather substantial in itself.

The Advocate General, in questions 8(d) sought the Court’s views on whether the loss of the Trident was 'caused or materially contributed to by any lack of statical stability'. As a result of the confusion and disinformation that was allowed to enter into the case, the Sheriff was able, in paragraph [31], to provide the following unsatisfactory reply:

I think the answer to this question is no

Whilst the post of Sheriff Principal is a very senior position within the Scottish legal system, we do not think that this confers the right to challenge the established principles of Naval Architecture, which are irrefutably based on Archimedes and Newton’s laws.

The failure of Trident to meet her design specification in respect of a mandatory  [*] stability standard, and the fact that this was unresolved until she capsized can be viewed as nothing less than a serious design fault - and one in our view that was a material factor in her loss.

More to come…

[*] It was mandatory in the sense that Governmental grant monies should not have been advanced for this vessel until it had been verified that she met the required stability standard. The whole purpose of the conditional grant scheme was to improve the stability (safety) of UK fishing vessels.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

FV Trident Inquiry - Final Report - Part 1

The Sheriff Principal’s report on the loss of the FV Trident has now been released [LINK].

The most important question that was asked at this public inquiry is contained in paragraph [32] of the Sheriff’s report:

Unfortunately the answer to this crucial question is not actually contained within the Sheriff’s main report.

One would expect that, following the 10-year and £7m investigation into the loss of Trident, the Sheriff and his Assessors should have been able (and obliged) to provide an answer to this question in writing, themselves. Instead, all they appear to have done is simply a cut and paste exercise from a document that is not in the public domain (i.e. the Joint Panel of Experts report, finished before the court hearing started), leaving it up to us to sift through a number of pages of verbal padding until we arrive at the following text. 

From the text above we are left to surmise that the Sheriff’s uncritical acceptance [*] of the conclusion lifted word for word from the JPE report (paragraph 12.1), as indicated above, provides us with the answer to the question that was asked in paragraph [32] – but we are not really sure about that!!

(More to follow...)
[*] Note the passive connotation of the verb ‘accept’, which does not imply full endorsement

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Trident and Aquila inquiries ... and interesting facts about scallopers

We think that we may have found one of the reasons for the delay in finalising the Trident’s RFI report: the DfT is keeping Mr Macwhirter, the Assessor in the Trident inquiry, very busy these days, as he is also giving evidence, in his role as stability expert for the MAIB, in the Fatal Accident inquiry into the Aquila tragedy. (See press article HERE)

Mercifully, the experts in that inquiry have not seen the need to delve too deeply into vessel motions and dynamic stability topics, and appear to be ready to arrive at their conclusions concerning the loss of the Aquila by reference to contemporary stability standards only.

That being said, we must admit to being somewhat surprised to learn from the Press and Journal article that Mr Macwhirter considered the “extra weight alterations to the Aquila over the years were unlikely to have caused the capsize”, as he had also previously stated that the extra weight on the Aquila had led to a significant deterioration in her intact stability [1] reserves.

So, we thought we would check his further views in the MAIB’s ‘Aquila’ report:

9. Conclusions:
Further analysis indicated that even if the Aquila had fully complied with the stability requirements, it was very probable that capsize would still have occurred [2]

At first glance, this statement appeared quite familiar to us once we realised that, if we substituted ‘Trident’ for ‘Aquila’ in the above sentence, then this would be exactly the same conclusion that the experts in the Trident RFI are striving to arrive at!

There is a striking level of consistency here!!!

And, if we think about this some more, it looks like we are being invited to believe that official ‘stability standards’ have little value when it comes to preventing capsizes of Scottish fishing vessels.

We would take a contrary view and suggest that, apart from being nonsense, this is not really the type of message that a responsible Maritime Authority (like the DfT) should be promoting.


[1] And thus be more likely to capsize

[2] Unfortunately the “stability requirements” that Mr Macwhirter used as the basis for his analysis were for side and stern trawlers only, not for scallop dredgers (as the Aquila was). Scallopers are required to meet an enhanced stability standard (i.e. trawler stability standards increased by 20%). Now if the Aquila had indeed met the scalloper stability standard ….what would his conclusions have been regarding her probability to capsize?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Enough is enough

It is now nearly ten years since the wreck of Trident was discovered on the seabed off the north-east coast of Scotland (12 June 2001).

It is also nearly nine years since the official investigation into her loss was re-opened by Stephen Byers (RFI – 28 March 2002)

It is 16 months since the court hearings re-opened in Aberdeen (17 October 2009) and 7 months since the hearings closed (14 July 2010).

We understand that mindless of the pledge made that the official report would be published before the end of 2010, the RFI’s officials are still dithering and passing the report back and forth amongst themselves, dotting 'i' s and crossing 't' s getting the message 'right', picking their noses, and covering backsides and other official sensitivities.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011


It is now 37 years since the Gaul was lost in the Barents Sea.

Two public inquiries were held (in 1974 and 2004) and both failed to reveal the causes of the tragedy. 36 crewmen perished with the Gaul.