Friday, July 01, 2011

Balancing commercial interests with safety

“DfT seeks to ensure that the UK shipping industry remains a major player globally…and that the UK balances commercial interests with safety”  –

In our posts of 1 Jan 2010 and 8 Feb 2010 we discussed how the stability of the Gaul had been adversely affected by modifications to two of her double bottom seawater ballast tanks - modifications carried out by the Gaul’s owners to enable her to carry more fuel oil and thus be able to spend more time fishing at sea. The modifications were performed after her delivery from Brooke Marine in 1972, when she was named Ranger Castor, before she was sold on to British United Trawlers (Hellyer Brothers) and renamed the Gaul.

We also mentioned that during the original public inquiry of 1974, the DOT (now DfT) went to great lengths to ensure that the Gaul’s stability deficiencies, which resulted from these tank modifications, did not become the focus of the public inquiry. We suggested in our posts that, because of the errors they had made during their stability review, the DOT were uncomfortable with the possibility that stability deficiencies could be cited as a factor in the Gaul’s loss.

A copy of the official Stability certificate for the Gaul (when she was known as the Ranger Castor) (Crown copyright)
However, there was another compelling motive behind the DOT’s desire to deflect attention from the Gaul’s fuel tank issue and that was the fact that the change in use for these two tanks was instigated and carried out at a time when the Ranger Castor (Gaul) was owned and operated by the P&O Group - the UK’s ferry, ports and cruise ship operator.

The ballast tank modifications were unauthorised; they led to significant reductions in Gaul’s operational stability and they rendered the DOT’s stability approval certificate and the Gaul’s onboard stability information invalid (see second paragraph in the certificate above).

In 1974, as is the case today, the DOT’s ‘balance’ seemed to be weighted more in favour of big business than with the interests of the Gaul’s surviving relatives. The DOT would have been very reluctant to see P&O, one of the UK’s most prestigious companies, being sued for a negligent act [1], one that was potentially a crucial factor in the deaths of 36 fishermen.

The P&O Group were eventually broken up and sold on and today are no longer British-owned: the cruise business was taken over by the Carnival Corporation [2] in 2003, while the ferries and ports business was sold to DP World [3] in 2006.

[1] An unauthorised modification that allowed the (Ranger Castor) Gaul to carry fuel oil in her ballast tanks without a concurrent check on her stability amounted to negligence on the part of her owners

[2] British and American owned company with Carnival UK (P&O cruises) in the role of junior partner

[3] Dubai Ports group of companies

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