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A UK court has fined Svitzer Marine £2 million (US $2.41 million) over unsafe working practices that led to the death of a tug crewman.
Svitzer Marine pleaded guilty to failing to operate a vessel safely and failing to provide a safe system of work, causing the “avoidable tragedy” that resulted in the death of 62-year-old Ian Webb after he fell into the water.
A Liverpool Crown Court heard Monday how the tragic death sparked an investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) which identified a catalogue of the company’s failures.
The incident took place January 27, 2019, after Svitzer Marine’s tug Millgarth cast off from the Tranmere north jetty, in the river Mersey, in storm force conditions.
Webb, the vessel’s chief engineer, released the mooring lines and attempted to return to the tug by stepping down from the jetty on to a narrow, wet fender. The tug was free from the jetty and rolling in the swell of the river. Webb ultimately fell into the river.
He was eventually rescued by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, but later died from the effects of cold water immersion.
The investigation by the MCA revealed Svitzer Marine had not completed a risk assessment of the Tranmere jetties, despite crews raising concerns.
The MCA determined Svitzer Marine had failed to instruct crews in how to operate rescue equipment, failed to ensure rescue equipment was correctly fitted, and failed to ensure safety drills were being conducted.
A judge levied a find of £2 million against Svitzer Marine and ordered the company to pay £136,711 costs, totaling a £2,136,711.
During sentencing, the judge described the accident as an “avoidable incident” and expressed his condolences to the victim’s family.
“This operation was inherently unsafe in any conditions but in these conditions even more so,” the judge said. “Previous events should have put the defendant on notice,” he added.
MCA senior investigator Mark Flavell, who led the case, said: “My thoughts are with the family of Mr Webb, who today can take some comfort in seeing justice being served.
“This case highlights the consequences of complacency, of failure to adequately assess risks which can be prevalent in everyday tasks, and of failure to undertake safety drills to ensure crews are competent in the use of life saving equipment,” Flavell added. “As with most incidents of this nature, it was an avoidable tragedy, and the MCA will take action to stamp out such failures.”
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