Glasgow & West Scotland

Clydeport admits failures over Flying Phantom tug deaths

Flying Phantom tug Image copyright PA

Port operator Clydeport Operations Limited has admitted health and safety failures after three men drowned when their tug boat sank in the River Clyde.

Stephen Humphreys, 33, Eric Blackley, 57, and Robert Cameron, 65, were crew on the Flying Phantom, which capsized in thick fog on 19 December 2007.

Clydeport had originally denied culpability over the deaths but changed its plea at a hearing on Tuesday.

Tug boat owner Svitzer Marine was fined £1.7m after it admitted failures.

Clydeport pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches during a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Tuesday.

The firm admitted failing to have in place an adequate contingency plan if fog was encountered, especially when a large vessel was being towed.

It also admitted failing to provide a safety management system and to appoint a suitable individual or individuals as the designated person.

Image caption Eric Blackley, Robert Cameron and Stephen Humphreys died after the sinking

A trial was originally fixed in the case before the plea was negotiated.

'Tragic events'

A spokesman for Clydeport said: "In pleading guilty to these three charges, it is important to underline that the Crown accepts these issues were not the cause of the tragic events of December 2007. What these tragic events did do was bring these breaches to light.

"Since this accident we have undertaken a comprehensive restructure of our working practices and systems."

The Clydeport spokesman said these improvements had been recognised by the Crown.

He added: "The tragic events of December 19th 2007 have been traumatic for everyone involved, particularly the families of the seamen who perished that evening.

"The legal process has been a long and arduous one, and whilst nothing can bring them back hopefully this judgement can bring a degree of closure to the relatives and workmates of the men who lost their lives."

The Flying Phantom, which was based at Greenock, Inverclyde, capsized and sank in heavy fog opposite Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire on 19 December 2007.

At the time of the accident, it had been towing the 77,000-ton Red Jasmine cargo ship, which was carrying a large load of animal feed.

Crewman Brian Aitchison, 37, from Coldingham, was rescued from the water after he managed to escape from the tug's wheelhouse.

The bodies of skipper Mr Humphreys, from Greenock, Mr Cameron, from Houston in Renfrewshire, and Mr Blackley, from Gourock, were later recovered.

The tug itself was raised in a salvage operation the following month.

An inquiry by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) later concluded that the tug's towing winch had not released quickly enough, which meant it was capsized by the vessel it was pulling.

The report also highlighted failings in procedure to ensure the tug operated safely in foggy weather.

Inquiry call

Andrew Henderson, from Thompsons Solicitors, who acted for the families of the men who died, said the Crown Office must now begin a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the sinking.

"It is very welcome that today Clydeport have admitted their guilt to a series of health a safety breaches.

"Almost seven years on from the sinking we have to make sure something like this never happens again.

"The best way to make sure safety on the river is improved is for the Crown Office to begin a fatal accident inquiry into the sinking.

Mr Henderson added: "There can no more delay on this matter, thousands of men work in the marine industry on the Clyde and the lessons learned from a FAI will help protect their safety in the future."

All three men who lost their lives in the tragedy were members of the Unite union.

Unite's Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said legislation was now needed to protect workers.

He said: "By admitting their culpability the law will punish Clydeport with a significant fine but this does nothing for the families of the victims, puts no responsibility on an individual or individuals within the company itself and does nothing to prevent fatalities from recurring in the future.

"Scotland desperately needs a prescriptive legislative agenda that serves to protect working people and their families because from Stockline, the Flying Phantom and offshore helicopter tragedies we are repeatedly seeing the failings of a toothless, protracted justice system."

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