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 :
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  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.
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  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 , 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.