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Clydeport and the "Flying Phantom"- The Port Marine Safety Code comes of age

Three members of the Flying Phantom’s crew tragically died when the tug girted whilst towing a large bulk carrier up the Clyde in darkness when it ran into thick fog nearly 7 years ago. Last year, the tug’s owner was fined £1.7M for failures in its safety systems. Yesterday the Harbour Authority also admitted its guilt to a serious offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Much will be and has been written about this case; about the facts that led up to the girting and why it has taken so long to be dealt with, but one thing is now clear – a Harbour Authority must be able to demonstrate it complies with the requirements in the Port Marine Safety Code. If it can’t, that will be evidence that a serious offence has been committed.

For over 5 years I have been engaged in this case as an independent expert for the Crown. This case has fortified my opinion that compliance with the Port Marine Safety Code is not voluntary, or a “nice to have” or something the Chairman signs off every three years on the say so of the Harbour Master. Demonstrable compliance is vital if the Harbour Authority, the Duty Holders and the Harbour Master are to avoid criminal proceedings (let alone civil proceedings) if there is an accident.

In 2009 at the UKHMA seminar I finished a presentation with:

"Please don’t comply with the Port Marine Safety Code just because you have to or because you need to make a return to the MCA or because you want to avoid uncomfortable scrutiny from the Authorities and lawyers after an accident.

Comply with the Port Marine Safety Code because it makes good business sense."

I now add that it also saves lives.

Criminal and civil liability aside, one can only gawp at the legal costs involved in defending allegations right up to just before a trial which was expected to last up to 12 weeks and would have involved over 120 witnesses.

I will be writing a case report once I have considered the Judge’s remarks. In the meantime, if you need an expert to evaluate your compliance please contact us.

Written by Mark Capon

Regs4ships Director Master Mariner Mark Capon is renowned for his knowledge of the Port Marine Safety Code and its practical application. Since its inception in 2001 he has assisted ports with compliance and he and his colleagues have conducted hundreds of compliance audits. Regs4ships was contracted to train MCA surveyors to conduct "verification visits" and drafted the "aide memoire" that is now incorporated in the Guide to Good Practice on Port Marine Operations. Mark now sits on the PMSC steering group and is often instructed as an independent and impartial expert to assist in legal proceedings.

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