Sunday, 26 October 2008

The MV Derbyshire Presentation

In early November this year, the Department for Transport will be acting as host for a presentation on the 2000 MV Derbyshire RFI. It is going to be a modest affair - which is not being publicised - to be held behind closed doors, for the benefit of the Derbyshire families only. The guest of honour, it is touted, will be none other than the MP for Hull East, Mr John Prescott. (As the Minister responsible for the DETR, he was obliged to sanction the 2000 Derbyshire RFI – an inevitable decision, given the unsatisfactory nature of the original Formal Investigation and the new evidence obtained from the underwater surveys.)
The prospect intrigued us and stirred our curiosity to such a degree that we felt compelled to find out more about the event and to try to make sure that no more taxpayers’ money on securing Mr Prescott’s ‘legacy’ will be spent, and that no further loss of official repute or deliberate bamboozling of the Derbyshire victims’ families will happen.
Therefore, we have lodged a FOI request with the Department for Transport in order to get more details on this matter. The request can be seen at the following web address:
The DfT kindly promised us a reply by the end of October.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Dry run for litigation

By way of preamble to the comments that will follow later on this site, we are now providing a brief explanation of what, in our view, appear to have been the interests, motivations and legal objectives behind the outcome of the Derbyshire Formal Investigation.
As we have mentioned earlier on our Trawler Gaul blog, the search for the truth in many formal investigations held in the UK has often been hindered by the adversarial aspects of these inquiries – aspects which render them not as much as investigative processes, but as cases of ‘shadow litigation’.
In a similar manner, the outcome of the Derbyshire RFI appears also to have been affected by the unequal leverage exerted by the most powerful of the forces competing in that formal investigation: i.e. the British government and the maritime establishment, i.e. the parties that would have stood to lose out from any results likely to lead to litigation.
Rather than simply establish the causes of the tragedy, the final report of the Derbyshire RFI sought, also, to exonerate the shipbuilders from any potential liabilities.
Thus, the RFI concluded that the design deficiencies that had led to the loss of the Derbyshire had not been due to negligence on the part of the shipbuilders, but to the unfortunate inadequacies in the international maritime legislation in force at the time of her build.
As the final report shows (see Annex 2 of the attached document) the court addressed a number of limited and leading questions, which appear to have been tailored in a way that would have allowed British Shipbuilders (i.e. the Government) to make use of one of the defenses provided under products liability legislation – i.e. the ‘development risks defense’ – to counter charges of negligence and claims for compensation, should these have later arisen.
This 'development risks defense' states:
the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time [the producer] supplied the product was not such that a producer of products of the same description as the product in question might be expected to have discovered the defect if it had existed in his products while they were under his control.”
Furthermore, the court’s final conclusions that the vessel’s deck fittings (mushroom ventilators, airpipes and windlass seating) were wholly in accordance with standards applicable at the time the Derbyshire was built - standards which today are no longer acceptable – was not, in fact, proven. On the contrary, photographic evidence from the wreck site indicates that these fittings were not wholly in accordance with the standards that applied at the time of build.
For a fuller and clearer explanation, please see the document published at THIS LINK.
(More to come)
The document mention above can also be found at the following links:

Sunday, 12 October 2008

MV Derbyshire tragedy

The MV Derbyshire, a 91,655 gross tons bulk-carrier was was built in 1976 by Swan Hunter Shipyard, Teesside, for the shipping company Bibby Line. The vessel was registered at Liverpool and classified by LRS.
On 9 September 1980, during Typhoon Orchid, MV Derbyshire dissapeared off the south coast of Japan, with all hands on board (42 crew and two wives). She was, and remains, the largest UK ship ever to have been lost at sea.
The Report of the Formal Investigation (FI) held in 1987 first concluded that the loss of the MV Derbyshire had been due to a force majeure event, the vessel having probably been "overcome by the forces of nature in typhoon Orchid".

The wreck was eventually found in June 1994, during a search launched by the International Transport Workers' Federation and led by the American shipwreck hunter David Mearns. The search team were also able to deploy a ROV to survey the wreck and collect photographic evidence from the site.

Later on, using evidence from the underwater survey, the Investigation assessors purported - on the basis of a rope seen emerging from the Bosun’s store hatch opening and of an examination of the disposition of that hatch’s toggles - that the loss of MV Derbyshire had been caused by the negligence of the crew, who had allegedly failed to secure the hatch lid, which lead to fore end flooding and structural failure.

The discovery of the wreck prompted the British Government to re-open the Formal Investigation into the sinking of the vessel - investigation which began in April 2000. This time, the investigation reached the conclusion that the ship had sunk because of fore end flooding and structural failure, and as a result of inadequacies in the legislation in force at the time of build, and that the rope emerging from the Bosun’s store hatch opening was nothing more than post-casualty debris, thus absolving the crew of any responsibility for the tragedy.

The Investigation found that damage to the forward vents, hatches and equipment on the upper deck initiated the unfortunate sequence of events that led to the vessel's loss. Flooding of the vessel’s forward spaces through these damaged vents and hatches gave the vessel a trim by the bow, thereafter the main cargo hold hatch covers were subjected to seawater loading and collapsed – flooding number 1 hold first, then number 2 hold, then number 3, and so on until the vessel sank.

Several important questions, however, have remained unanswered:

1. The mushroom vents on the MV Derbyshire obviously failed. Were they therefore adequate?

2. The vessel had been issued with a Load Line certificate. But did the vents comply with the requirements of the Load Line Convention?

3. Did the construction and workmanship of these vents conform to the shipyard's or appropriate British standards?

4. Did the fillet welding on the windlass seat have adequate throat thickness and, was the workmanship satisfactory?

In due course, these questions and several others will finally be addressed.