Port Operator Fined in UK Over Fatal 2007 ‘Flying Phantom’ Capsizing

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September 29, 2014

2006 file photo of the MV Flying Phantom. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A port operator in UK has pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches and has been sentenced to pay £650,000 (just over $1 million USD) relating to the fatal 2007 capsizing of the tug Flying Phantom on the River Clyde, which resulted in the deaths of three crewmembers.

Clydeport Operations Ltd was sentenced to the fines Monday in the High Court in Edinburgh, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency reports. Last week, the port operator, which is owned by Peel Ports Limited, pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, admitting that between 29 December 2000 and 19 December 2007 there had been a systemic failure in risk assessments and safe systems of work.

According to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, 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 in thick fog. As they approached the Erskine Bridge, the Flying Phantom was secured to the bow of the Red Jasmine, which was transporting animal feed, the MCA said. Just before 6 p.m., the Flying Phantom called the ship to say they had grounded and the pilot instructed the tug to let go the line. The line came taut and the tug was pulled over and capsized – a situation known as “girting”, the MCA said.

The tug’s master, Stephen Humphreys, 33, chief engineer, Robert Cameron, 65, and rating, Eric Blackley, 57, all lost their lives in the incident. The mate, Brian Aitchison, 37, managed to climb clear before the tug sank and was rescued.

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, the MCA said.

An investigation into the 2007 accident by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) found that there were shortcomings in the application of the Port Marine Safety code, stating that neither the company secretary nor the operations/human resources director received training to adequately fulfill their role as the designated person with responsibility to ensure health and safety.

Judge Lord Kinclaven handed down the sentence at the High Court in Edinburgh Monday, saying: “The charges are severally and jointly very serious and extended for a long period of time, from 2000 to 2007.”

The tug operator Svitzer Marine Limited had previously admitted to proximate cause of the deaths.

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.”

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