Calls to tighten River Thames safety and alcohol rules

Image caption The report urged authorities to tighten safety regulations on the River Thames

Marine accident investigators have urged authorities to tighten River Thames safety regulations.

The recommendation came in a report into a collision between a high-performance rigid-hulled inflatable boat and a passenger ferry.

Both crew members of the inflatable, Morfil, were pitched into the water when it collided with the passenger ferry, Sun Clipper, in June 2011.

The Port of London Authority (PLA) said it welcomed all recommendations.

The incident happened by Blackfriars Road Bridge in central London.

The pair were quickly rescued by a local inshore lifeboat and although both were shocked they were not injured.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report added: "It was extremely fortunate that a further two fatalities did not result from this collision."

'Alcohol consumption'

The recommendations come in the light of the many activities planned on the river this summer, including a 1,000-boat flotilla which has been assembled for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The report said:

  • Morfil's coxswain (the person steering the boat) was "under the influence of alcohol and did not take action to avoid Sun Clipper until between one and two seconds before the collision".
  • Refurbishment works under the Blackfriars Road Bridge resulted in both vessels using the same bridge arch and their skippers not being able to see each other until about 10 seconds before the collision.
  • Morfil's speed was significantly greater than the 12-knot (almost 14mph) limit recommended by the Port of London Authority (PLA).
  • Morfil's coxswain had limited knowledge and experience of navigating on the River Thames and was unaware of, or ignored, the local regulations and advice.

There had been at least 45 fatalities resulting from accidents to pleasure vessels over the last six years in which alcohol had been a contributory factor, the MAIB said.

The Morfil coxswain was likely to have had at least six units of alcohol in his body, more than double the alcohol limit prescribed for motorists and professional mariners, the report added.

Image caption The Diamond Jubilee flotilla will feature 20,000 people on the water

"The use of bylaws by harbour authorities to deter alcohol consumption on pleasure vessels is largely ineffective," the report said.

The MAIB recommended a national alcohol limit to persons in charge of pleasure vessels to the Department for Transport (DfT).

Also, "taking into account the increased activity expected on the river during 2012", the MAIB recommended the PLA introduced mandatory speed limits on sections of the Thames and took action to further enhance the safe navigation of all vessels on the river.

A spokesman for the PLA said the report highlighted the dangers of speeding vessels in confined and congested waterways.

"In this very busy year for London this report goes to the heart of why safety is crucial for all river users at all times," he said, adding that the authority will work with the DfT to strengthen safety regulations.

A DfT spokesman said: "We welcome the MAIB report on the Morfil/Sun Clipper incident and recognise the concerns about the need for alcohol limits for leisure mariners.

"The safety of all who use our waters is paramount and we remain committed to the introduction of legislation where it is proportionate, and where there is clear need and benefit in doing so."

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