Monday, August 01, 2011

Confirmation bias

In 1975 in the aftermath of the Gaul and Trident disasters the Department of Trade decided to sponsor a program of research at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), to try and discover why two well found fishing vessels had suddenly capsized and sank with significant loss of life. This research would focus on stability issues and would be carried out by the ship division of the NPL (subsequently renamed the National Maritime Institute, NMI), one of the world’s leading maritime test establishments at that time.

Scale models of the Gaul and the Trident hulls were then built and subjected to a program of sea keeping tests in waves of varying magnitude; their behaviour in different conditions was filmed, documented and analysed. Unfortunately, the outcome from this research was initially kept under wraps by the DOT, until, in 1979-80, Dr Tony Morrall (NMI) was allowed to publish two brief technical papers, through the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. The two papers gave an edited overview of the NMI’s research/conclusions for the two vessels and video footage from the NMI tests was shown, although the identity of the Trident was concealed:
  1. ‘Capsizing of small trawlers’ published at a RINA meeting in Glasgow on February 20 1979 (N.B. The Trident was not identified within this report; it was merely referred to as ‘trawler A’)
  1. ‘The Gaul disaster: an investigation into the loss of a Large Stern Trawler’ -  published at a RINA meeting in London on April 15 1980
In brief, the conclusion from the NMI research about the loss of the Trident was that she had capsized in moderate sea conditions because she had insufficient stability, while the conclusion about the loss of the Gaul was that she had capsized because of severe weather conditions in conjunction with some unknown circumstance such as internal flooding, which had degraded her inherent stability reserves. [1]

Following the discovery of both wrecks and the decision to re-open both formal investigations (RFI), the DfT’s experts dusted down and sifted through the NMI’s research folders and decided that:
  • The NMI research data on the loss of the Gaul, had yielded the ‘right’ answers, as far as the DfT was concerned, and therefore could be utilised as evidence during the Gaul RFI. In fact in their marine accident report no. 4/99, the MAIB went as far as praising the NMI’s research as being “a comprehensive and ambitious project lasting two and a half years”. Video footage of the NMI tests together with the Morrall research paper were considered to be new and important evidence for the purposes of the Gaul RFI hearings in 2004
  •  Unfortunately, the NMI research data on the loss of the Trident (which had an identical pedigree to that of the Gaul) had yielded the ‘wrong’ answers, as far as the DfT was concerned, and was therefore deemed to be unsuitable for a public airing or disclosure during the Trident RFI.
Thereafter, in 2005 the DfT allegedly shredded the Trident research folders and in the RFI hearings of 2010, the Advocate General and her experts together with the Aberdeen Sheriff summarily dismissed the NMI research data (see below):

Pages 188-90 Trident RFI - transcripts of evidence 12/7/2010:

The above exchanges between Mr Thomson, the counsel for the Trident families, and Sheriff Young, where rational argument is being summarily dismissed by ridicule, do not cast the Sheriff in a favourable light.

While the DfT and its associates have been keen to disregard and discard the Trident’s NMI research data with its inconvenient conclusion regarding stability, the Trident families have not, as yet, been convinced [LINK] by this official obfuscation.

[1] In our posts of 1 January 2010 and 8 February 2010 we revealed that the DOT/Owners had estimated the Gaul’s stability reserves for her last voyage to be greater than was reasonably justifiable. This ‘enhanced’ level of stability was also specified by the DOT for the model used in the Gaul NMI tests, the test results would undoubtedly have been influenced by this factor.


AJT said...

The families of Trident foolishly went into the RFI with great optimism of gaining the truth. The cold heartless way in which the OAG bulldozed the inquiry was unfair,insensitive and indeed made a mockery of justice. The fact that Sir Stephen Stewart Templeton Young, 3rd Baronet decided to ridicule a perfectly rational argument by the families councel was unfair and an absolute abuse of position and power. I prefer to shorten his moniker to dickhead. The NMI report hit the nail on the head and had it not been suppressed in 1976 it would have saved the British tax payer a fortune on an inconclusive and corrupt RFI

gadfly said...

Our sentiments exactly!