A port operator has today (Monday 29 September) pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches, following the deaths of three crew members of a tug which capsized on the River Clyde in 2007. Clydeport Operations Ltd, who were sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh, received fines totalling £650,000.
In December 2007 the Flying Phantom was one of three tugs assisting the 70,000-tonne cargo ship Red Jasmine as it made its way along the River Clyde. As they approached the Erskine Bridge, the Flying Phantom was secured to the bow of the Red Jasmine, which was transporting animal feed.
Just before 6pm, in thick fog, the Flying Phantom called the ship to say they had grounded and the pilot instructed the tug to let go the line. That was the last communication. The line came taut and the tug was pulled over and capsized – a situation known as “girting”.
The tug’s master, Stephen Humphreys, 33, chief engineer, Robert Cameron, 65, and rating, Eric Blackley, 57, lost their lives. The mate, Brian Aitchison, 37, managed to climb clear before the tug sank and was rescued.
Last week (Tuesday 23 September) in the Edinburgh High Court, Clydeport Operations Limited, owned by Peel Ports Limited, admitted breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company accepted that between 29 December 2000 and 19 December 2007 there had been a systemic failure in risk assessments and safe systems of work. The company was fined £650,000. The tug operator Svitzer Marine Limited had previously admitted to proximate cause of the deaths.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) took over the maritime element of the investigation from Strathclyde Police, once it was determined that the deaths were not suspicious. However, the investigation remained under the control of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The MCA found that there were also shortcomings in the application of the Port Marine Safety code in that neither the company secretary, nor the operations/human resources director, received training to adequately fulfil their role as the designated person with responsibility to ensure health and safety.
The charges included a similar accident with a ship, the Abu Egila, at the same place in September 2000 when the Flying Phantom was also the lead tug. On this occasion the tug was let go and there were no injuries.
Sentencing at the High Court in Edinburgh on 29 September the judge, Lord Kinclaven, said: “The charges are severally and jointly very serious and extended for a long period of time, from 2000 to 2007.”
Captain Jeremy Smart, Head of Enforcement at the MCA, said: “This was a tragic event and the MCA would like to express its sincere condolences to the families involved, who have endured a very difficult number of years. The investigation highlighted some very serious shortcomings in Clydeport Operations Limited’s safety management.”