Saturday, 29 May 2010

FV Trident Inquiry - the matter of the elusive document

Unexpected and most confounding press reports have recently announced that the families of the Trident victims have gained access to a document, which so far appears to have eluded them. The document in question, dating back to 1976, reveals that experts from the former National Maritime Institute, after carrying out research at the behest of the Department of Transport, had assessed that the Trident had inadequate stability.

Confronted with the uproar generated by this belated discovery, the Advocate General was quick to state that the document had not been hidden, that it “has been publicly available since it was published in 1976, and was available for anyone to see at the time”, and was even mentioned by the individual counsel during the recent court hearings.
For some reason, the Advocate General seems to confuse the RINA technical paper “Capsizing of Small Trawlers” by A. Morrall, that was published later, in 1979, for the 1976 NMI report for the DOT, to which the families are actually referring.
In fact, it was only the 1979 paper that has been mentioned by the counsel during the proceedings because, as a spokeswoman for the inquiry tried to justify, it had a “better status”.
Well, indeed, the 1979 RINA paper did have a ‘better status’: although originating from the 1976 research, the later publication was a more sanitized version of the document in question, therefore more suitable for public consumption, less definite in its pronouncements and one which does not even tie the 1976 research to the loss of Trident [*], simply referring to trawlers A and B instead.

Anyway, last week, we sent an email to the Advocate General asking her to name that contentious document publicly and to make it available to the public.

Dear Madam,

Following the latest news in the press regarding the emergence yesterday of "an unpublished government report which concluded that the vessel’s design made it so unstable that it could have capsized in “waves of modest height”", which the inquiry maintains "has been publicly available since it was published in 1976", I would be much obliged if you could arrange for a copy or a link to the aforesaid document to be sent to us.

Many thanks for your kind assistance,

Yours sincerely,

So far, we have received no response from the AG office, but we hope that one will be coming soon.
[*] This is rather unusual since one of Mr Morrall’s later productions for RINA: “The GAUL Disaster: An Investigation into the loss of a Large Stern Trawler” as the title implies, had no qualms in mentioning the name of the casualty that was being researched.

Friday, 14 May 2010

FV Trident Stability - model testing

In a few days time  - more precisely on the 24th of May 2010 - the re-opened formal investigation into the sinking of FV Trident is due to reconvene.
In anticipation of that day we have read through the transcripts of evidence available so far.
In 2002 when the then Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Stephen Byers, ordered the re-opening of the Trident inquiry, we were advised that new and important evidence had been discovered that justified a new investigation into the vessel's loss.

However, after ploughing through more than 7000 pages of recorded oral evidence (from the 40 days of hearings in the Aberdeen Court), we have not been able to locate any new and important evidence!
We were also surprised to learn that, despite the technical expertise that is available to the court, the Advocate General found it necessary to seek external advice on one of the simplest concepts in Naval Architecture concerning ship stability.

AG - "It is true that raising KG is generally detrimental and lowering KG favourable and this applies to all vessels" - Do you agree with this statement Dr Schmitter? [...]
Dr S - Yes in general terms this statement is correct
AG - Right.
(Transcript of evidence of 12 November 2009)

For the benefit of those with an interest in trawler stability, we have prepared a short video clip (see below, split in two parts), which explains the significance of KG (VCG) to transverse stability. [1] [2]


[1] KG is the height of the vertical center of gravity above the keel (also known as VCG)

[2] Unfortunately, on the Trident the VCG position was not accurately known because an inclining experiment had not been carried out.

FV Trident Inquiry – the Joint Panel of Experts

The Aberdeen Press and Journal informed us this weekend about the latest goings-on in the Trident inquiry. It was thus that we learned that Mr Martin Pullinger, [*] naval architect and retained expert for the majority of the Trident victims’ families, was criticised by the advocate acting for the vessel’s designer for having formed an opinion on Trident’s stability "without the knowledge required", a claim which the advocate defended by citing Mr Pullinger’s decision to defer matters relating to the Trident’s seakeeping ability to Professor Colin MacFarlane.

We are thus given to understand that Professor MacFarlane’s unique expertise in the arcane subject of seakeeping should preclude other experts from having opinions not only on the subject of seakeeping but also on issues of stability in general (issues deemed up until now to be the bread and butter of any naval architect).

How odd is it then to read pages 64 and 65 of the transcripts of evidence from the inquiry for the 4th of November 2009 about the following exchange, which took place during that day’s hearings:

Cross-examination by MR ANDERSON: […] Well perhaps you could tell us then, Professor MacFarlane, what exactly is it about the prevailing sea conditions which has combined with the specific sea-keeping characteristics of the Trident to cause this to capsize?

WITNESS [Professor MacFarlane]:  I do not know […] I do not know the specific sea-keeping characteristics of the Trident at this stage which combined with those sea conditions caused it to capsize.

SHERIFF PRINCIPAL YOUNG: Sorry. You don’t know?

[1] Mr Pullinger, it’s been reported, has refused to concur with the conclusions of the Joint Panel of Experts  - which did not mention static stability as a potential contributing factor to the loss of the vessel - and has submitted his own report to the inquiry. 

FV Trident Formal Investigation – the distance from reality

Toto, I’ve a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore” (Dorothy Gale, from the film The Wizard of Oz)

With every day that passes, it becomes more and more apparent that the UK government would very much like the Trident court of inquiry to dismiss the findings of the original 1975 public investigation and conclude instead that the loss of the vessel and its seven crew was caused by some reason other than deficient stability. 
In fact, the cause for the loss that has been proposed by the inquiry’s Joint Panel of Experts (JPE), after many years of deliberation, and which the Government is vigorously promoting is that:

 “The cause of this capsize is attributed to specific sea-keeping characteristics of the vessel combined with the prevailing sea conditions at the time”

To arrive at the above conclusion, without or in spite of the available factual evidence, a few premises need to be introduced beforehand, which when you use a long enough chain of estimative processes, approximations and other abstractions of reality, and when you are not constrained by empirical verification, can be quite easy.

In order to demonstrate and produce evidence about the behaviour of the Trident in various sea conditions the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) was hired to construct a physical model of the vessel, which was tank tested in the weather conditions specified by the inquiry Joint Panel of Experts (JPE), as well as a Fredyn numerical model, which was tuned using the tank testing results from the physical model.

Trident’s weight and centre of gravity details, normally derived from an inclining test, used by MARIN to build their models were, however, a step further from reality since they had been obtained from sister vessel data and negotiations amongst the parties represented at the inquiry.
The weather conditions, specified by the JPE, inconsistent with several eyewitness testimonies and the findings of the original investigation [*], were derived from two weather hindcasts – i.e. other approximations of reality – and then processed for the purpose of providing the necessary parameters for the model. 
How this processing was done and how reliable its outputs were, we may never be able to fathom. All we really know is that the conclusions drawn by the inquiry experts from these hindcasts suggest that, on the day when the Trident was lost, the winds and the sea waves were much bigger than the testimony given at the time of the 1975 inquiry indicated.
What is more, the MARIN physical model was only run for a limited number of wave settings, leaving the scientists to analogise freely as to the reactions of the model to other sea conditions.

Then, of course, the error propagation comes into play and, in the end, the results obtained from this combination of successive abstractions of reality, with their accumulated errors and subjectivity, doesn’t inspire great confidence.

In short, it can be argued that testing the behaviour of a vessel whose displacement and centre of gravity at the time of her loss are not accurately known, under weather conditions the parameters for which appear to have been interpolated from extrapolations, by means of a model which incorporates a number of possibly debatable assumptions and suppositions as well as a series of further abstractions, validating this model against another model, observing it through a very limited number of tests and assessing the test results using yardsticks and norms that have not been accepted in the wider maritime community, takes us a some distance from reality and from a level of certainty than we might consider suitable to a fatal accident investigation.
[*] If we understood correctly the press reports on this subject, the victims’ families were prevented from appointing their own weather specialist. (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 02 November 2009, Trident families’ weather expert is disallowed)

FV Trident inquiry – variable factors and conditional probabilities

In the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 5 March 2010 we read about the dialogue that took place between Ms Ailsa Wilson QC (representing the Advocate General) and Professor MacFarlane (expert witness for the inquiry) concerning the stability of the FV Trident:

"Ms Wilson said: "The feeling among the group [i.e. the relatives of those lost on the Trident] is that Trident had survived for 18 months and sailed in much worse conditions to those during the loss, so she must have been a risk.
Mr MacFarlane said he did not see the logic in this, adding: "If she survived much worse sea conditions and more difficult conditions then I don’t see how it could be said that she had a stability problem. That doesn’t seem logical to me.""

If the testimony mentioned above is accurately reported, then we have to accept that the concerns expressed thereafter by Mrs Jeannie Ritchie, one of the Trident widows -“We seem to be going round in circles and being baffled by science,” she said - may be well grounded.
For it appears that, in response to one of the relatives’ reasoned arguments as to what may have caused the vessel to capsize, Professor MacFarlane chose to give a rather superficial and possibly misleading response, neglecting to explain that a vessel’s stability - that gives a vessel its resistance to capsize - is not a constant, but a variable property, which depends on a number of variable factors, such as the disposition and weight of fuel, water, ice, fish etc., and that his answer would only be true, if the Trident’s stability had been exactly the same during her last as well as her earlier trips.
The underlying logic behind the proposition put forward by the relatives is really quite simple: if we assumed that the probability of any given vessel capsizing is dependent upon two principal factors:
  • The intact stability of the ship – where the probability of capsize is inversely proportional to the ship’s stability reserves – which is, as mentioned above, a variable
  • The sea conditions in which the ship is sailing – where the probability of capsizing is relative to the size of the waves
then, for the Trident’s trips, which she had successfully completed earlier and where the sea conditions were worse, we would have to conclude that the stability of the vessel was better.
By virtue of the same logic, we would also have to conclude that, on the Trident’s last voyage, taken in more benign sea conditions, but ending with the capsize of the vessel, it must have been the vessel’s stability that was worse. The suggestion, therefore, is that it was the stability rather than the wave height, which led to the capsize and loss of the vessel.

The obvious question that follows from here is - what level of intact stability did the Trident have at the time of her loss?

FV Trident Formal Investigation – financial pressures

The latest news trickling from the FV Trident formal inquiry is rather disquieting. An article in the Times informs us that the relatives of the seven fishermen who lost their lives when the Trident went down in 1974 are now threatened by the government with financial ruin if they continue to press for a correct and unbiased investigation.
Although in 2002 Stephen Byers, then Secretary of State for Transport, promised that the government will honour its obligation to fund the proceedings, and despite the fact that the families have had no say in how the £3 million costs incurred to date have been decided, the government now has the gall to warn the families that they will not be reimbursed for the costs of essential technical assistance, unless they cease their quest for the truth and fall in with the government’s preferred version of events.

Yes, £3 million is a significant amount, but it was the government alone who chose to spend this sum and what to spend it on. The new model-testing performed in Holland, for instance, was not really necessary except to bolster the government’s proposition that it was a big wave rather than poor design that had been responsible for the vessel’s loss (comprehensive model tests had already been carried out in the late seventies, which indicated that poor stability on the Trident could have led to her capsize).
This blatant bullying of the Trident widows shows the level that our government officials will sink to in order to maintain the myth that there is no gain in pursuing justice and to avoid, perhaps, creating a point of reference for other similarly contentious inquiries.

The Times article also mentions that the victims’ families are determined to look further into the possibility that Trident had stability problems, and that the pursuit of this line of inquiry “would involve raising the vessel from the seabed”.
In fact, this is not really the case. In 1975, at the end of the first formal investigation, and 26 years before the wreck of the Trident was discovered, the Court felt confident enough to be able to conclude:
“The Court considers it probable that deficient stability in her design contributed to her foundering.”
Since then, the only new thing that has emerged is the evidence from the underwater survey of the wreck, which appears to attach even more weight to that probability.

Raising the vessel from the seabed may (depending on the state of the wreckage) provide the experts with some additional information that would improve the accuracy of their stability calculations. However, this is uncertain, and it may well be that, at the end of the day, the information already available from the sister vessel (and from the inclining test carried out on the Trident in Middlesbrough) provides the most realistic basis for a suitable assessment of the Trident’s stability.

Anyway, the biggest problem is that the Advocate General has already made it clear that she is determined not to allow an inquiry into the sinking of a vessel focus on the vessel’s design. Now, the stability of the vessel may be assessed one way or the other, but how do you solve that?

FV Trident inquiry – confusion and instability

The Trident was a typical example of the Scottish trawlers that were built in the late 60’s and early 70’s of just less than 24.4m (80 ft) in registered length. Outwardly it exhibited no obvious characteristics or features that would set it apart from the other similar vessels built at that time.

This particular size and type of trawler had a proven reputation for being seaworthy in all weather conditions, and in this respect we would hope that, ultimately, the Court of inquiry will be able to identify those critical differences on Trident which set her apart from the rest of the Scottish fleet and which caused her to capsize and founder in relatively moderate sea conditions.
The Trident was only 18 months old at the time of her loss.


Judging by the latest press reports on the debate about Trident’s stability, it seems that currently, there is some confusion within the Court as to what ‘stability’ actually means in the context of a fishing trawler and on what stability standards should normally apply. There also seems to be some confusion as to how a fishing vessel’s stability is actually measured and assessed, and, additionally, the terms ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ stability appear to have the Court’s official experts and Counsel talking at cross purposes.

In recent days it has been reported:

“Sheriff Principal Sir Stephen Young, who is overseeing the inquest, ordered him [the counsel for the families] to compile a second document restating his case.
The first order was served on Monday, when the court ruled that Mr Anderson’s arguments on static stability, dynamic stability and stability curves – all of which must be in check for a boat to remain upright – were not clear.” (Aberdeen Press and Journal 18 November 2009)

“The inquiry heard yesterday that an incline test on the Trident would not have revealed if she was at risk of capsizing.
Richard Anderson, representing some of the families, said it is their belief that the test, which is used to measure the stability of a boat in calm conditions, would have uncovered problems with the Trident’s stability.
William Boyd, a director of TMC Marine Consultants, told the inquiry the test “has no relevance” when a boat is out at sea.
[…] “An incline test is a necessary and useful test, but in predicting what external forces are going to arise at sea it has no relevance.” (Aberdeen Press and Journal 17 November 2009)

A MARINE expert insisted a test of a Peterhead-registered trawler which sank would not have proven whether it was sea-worthy. […] Mr Boyd said a test on the Trident would have been “non applicable” because it would have been carried out in calm waters. (Aberdeen Evening Express 17 November 2009)

“Master mariner Graeme Bowles said a static test on the boat would not have correctly assessed her stability when at sea, and that a dynamic stability test was usually done to check this. […] The inquiry had previously heard that an inclining test, usually done when the boat is static, had not been carried out. It examines the vertical centre of gravity and its effect on a vessel’s stability. […] When asked by Ailsa Wilson, QC for the advocate general, to explain the difference between static and dynamic tests, Mr Bowles said: 'Dynamic takes into account everything to do with the ship’s behaviour when she is at sea.' The test takes into account the risk of capsizing and the threat posed by violent winds and waves”. (Aberdeen Press and Journal 28 October 2009)

Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the personnel making up this ‘expert panel’ may not be wholly impartial, and that their ‘expert pronouncements’ and arguments, although developed at taxpayer’s expense, may be influenced, to some degree, by the specific interests of their clients.

Mr Bowles and Mr Boyd’s assertions, which have been quoted above, unless taken out of context, are incorrect and misleading; they don’t reflect the stability standards that are applied either on current UK fishing vessels or on those built in 1973. The two marine experts also play down the critical importance that an ‘inclining test’ has in determining a vessel’s stability.
Their implication that the International Maritime Organization’s mandatory requirements for inclining experiments and stability [1] were developed for purposes other than vessels operating at sea is really quite surprising.

Currently, inclining tests are an essential part of the statutory processes that ensure UK fishing vessels have adequate stability while operating at sea. (ref. Merchant Shipping Notice 1770 – contains mandatory static and dynamical stability criteria for contemporary fishing vessels of a type and size similar to Trident).

It may be useful, perhaps, to provide some clarification on the types of ‘stability’ that have been discussed during this inquiry:

All vessels have an inbuilt or inherent level of stability/resistance to capsize; however, this remains an ‘unknown quantity’ until an inclining test has been carried out. The inclining test enables the weight of the vessel and the position of its centre of gravity to be determined. It is only when these values are known that the elements of a vessel’s static and dynamical stability can be calculated and compared against the standards that are required to ensure safety at sea.

Stability (in ships) - is a measure of a ships ability to return to its upright position after being heeled through some angle to port or to starboard. The tendency of a ship to ‘right itself’ is caused by the horizontal separation of the ships weight and buoyancy forces when it is heeled. The term ‘stability’ has a distinct meaning for commercial seagoing vessels and its values may be calculated accurately for different sailing conditions. The principal stability standards that are applied in the UK today are those laid down by the International Maritime Organization in the form of static and dynamical stability criteria, all of which a vessel must meet before it can put to sea.
While the IMO criteria have been developed from ‘static’ rather than ‘dynamic’ considerations and do not explicitly take ship motions and sea conditions into account, they have been found, after many years of experience and feedback from the world’s seagoing fleets, to provide a base stability standard that will prevent a vessel from capsizing in all but the most severe of weather conditions.

Inclining experiment - An inclining experiment neither measures nor tests a vessel’s stability. The purpose of an inclining experiment is to provide data that will enable a vessel’s displacement (weight) and the position of its centre of gravity to be determined. The inclining test is ‘static’ in nature and must be carried out in flat, calm conditions with the vessel in equilibrium in order to obtain accurate results. The results from an inclining experiment are essential for the accurate determination of a vessel’s stability characteristics.

Static stability (righting moment) – For a ship, the static stability at any given heel angle is the product of the horizontal separation (called GZ) between the vertical lines of action of the ship’s buoyancy force and of its weight multiplied with its displacement (note these two lines of action pass through the ship’s centre of buoyancy and centre of gravity respectively). The value of GZ varies with the angle of heel, and, if this variation is plotted from 0 degrees to (say) 90 degrees, something called a curve of statical stability is obtained.

Dynamical stability – If the area under the curve of statical stability is calculated up to any particular angle or between two inclined angles then this is known as the dynamical stability for the vessel (for the range of inclinations considered). It is a measure of the work required to be done or energy expended when forcing the vessel to heel to that angle.

Dynamic stability – This is a term that currently has different meanings for different people within the maritime industry. Traditionally it has been used instead of the term ‘Dynamical stability’ and additionally it has been used to describe a vessel’s ‘directional stability’ (ref Rawson & Tupper – Basic Ship theory) but, nowadays, more often than not, it is used (or misused) in a generic sense to describe the various properties that a ship may exhibit when in motion in a seaway.
Recently, as a result of concerns on stability fluctuations on large vessels such as Container or passenger ships the IMO has decided to examine ‘Dynamic stability phenomena in waves’ with a view to the eventual development of agreed mandatory criteria. However, this is a complex matter and it will be a number of years before any new stability criteria emerge.
It is obvious from the above that there is some scope for confusion between the terms ‘dynamical stability’ and ‘dynamic stability’ and, just as has happened in maritime circles, the Court may also have fallen victim to this misunderstanding.
Perhaps the differences between the two opposing camps and their views on stability could be briefly summarized as follows:

  • The Counsel for the families would very much like the investigation to focus upon the types of trawler ‘stability’ that can be accurately calculated following an inclining experiment and for which there are International and National standards laid down (criteria for static and dynamical stability) i.e. something which is tangible.
  • It would appear that Counsel for the other parties (including the Advocate General) might prefer the investigation to consider ‘dynamic stability’, for which no industry standards have been yet agreed either Internationally or Nationally and which has different meanings for different people: i.e. something which, at this moment in time, is not tangible.
    In its latest revision to the International Code on Intact Stability, 2008 the International Maritime Organisation had this to say regarding the stability of ships in a seaway:

    “The safety of a ship in a seaway involves complex hydrodynamic phenomena which up to now have not been fully investigated and understood. Motion of ships in a seaway should be treated as a dynamical system and relationships between ship and environmental conditions like wave and wind excitations are recognized as extremely important elements. Based on hydrodynamic aspects and stability analysis of a ship in a seaway, stability criteria development poses complex problems that require further research.”

    It is suggested that while ‘Dynamic Stability’ may currently be of great interest to researchers, designers and operators of large container and cruise vessels, it is inappropriate for this developing field of applied science, on which there is no consensus, to be used as a basis for legal argument in a court of inquiry into the loss of a small trawler.
    [1] IMO - International Code on Intact Stability

    Trident Formal Investigation – the wave

    On reading the latest press reports about the FV Trident formal investigation, we couldn’t help noticing how keen our government is to establish a new set of ‘prevailing weather conditions’ for the time when the fishing vessel was lost, a manoeuvre which, we understand, is being opposed by the relatives of the seven crew members who died in the tragedy.

    At the heart of the matter appears to be the government’s desire to avoid any criticism [1] emerging from the current proceedings and the fact that it would be much more ‘convenient’ for them if the loss of the Trident could be put down to an act of God rather than to deficiencies in the transverse stability of the vessel.

    Unfortunately for the Government, the weather conditions that were officially recorded and witnessed at the time of the vessel’s loss were unexceptional (no worse than Beaufort 5 to 6, wind from a NNE direction with a fairly rough sea) so, conjuring up a wave that is big enough to capsize an 85 ft fishing trawler from such weather conditions must be a very difficult task.

    Since the wreck was discovered in 2001, there have been two official underwater surveys as well as a series of model tests, which were carried out under official supervision, in Holland [2].

    Surprisingly, the results from the underwater surveys and model tests have not, as yet, been publicised, but we can guess that they will form the centrepiece of the present inquiry and show the possibility of the Trident capsizing, but only in confused sea conditions with occasional ‘big’ waves - conditions just like those that the inquiry’s official experts are now trying to convince us were in play at the time of the loss.

    Subsequently, we suspect, the inquiry will be told by other leading experts that the Trident exhibited poor sea-keeping characteristics in their revised weather conditions and that it was “poor sea-keeping” in conjunction with a ‘big’ wave that ultimately led to her loss. The real factors regarding the vessels probable stability deficiencies will be thus minimised or disregarded.

    At this moment in time, however, the above is mere speculation. We would like to hope that, ultimately, the truth could still emerge from the proceedings that are now taking place in Aberdeen.
    [1] At the time the vessel was constructed (1973) the Whitefish Authority was meant to perform a supervisory/monitoring role to ensure that the stability of any fishing vessel, funded with State aid, met certain minimum standards.
    [2] This is not the first time that model tests and research have been carried out into the Trident’s loss by the UK Government. In the late 70’s, model tests were carried out on the Trident and a similar sized trawler to compare their resistance to capsize. The Trident was found to be inferior to the second vessel, and capsized when it was made to perform circular manoeuvres in ‘breaking waves’ (note while these test conditions may be deemed ‘unrealistic’ they were found to be necessary for the model to capsize) What is significant however, is that during subsequent model tests it was found that, if the stability of the Trident model was increased slightly, it no longer capsized. (Ref: ‘Capsizing of Small Trawlers’ paper by A Morrall read at RINA meeting in Glasgow on 20 February 1979.)

    FV Trident Inquiry and the confused sea state

    If what the newspapers report is correct [1], then it looks like the Trident formal investigation is now developing into an open fight between the Government, with their desire to rewrite history, on one side, and the victims' families, who want and have the right to learn the truth about how their loved ones were lost, on the other.

    In the latest twist to this public inquiry, one of the government’s paid experts, Mr Stephen Barstow, senior project scientist with Fugro Oceanor, has now put forward the official line, stating that the Trident was lost following a bad storm with gale-force seven or eight winds and 15-16ft waves.
    He said that “in a lengthy storm a big wave, measuring about 27ft, was likely to roll across the ocean as well” and added that the Trident would have been ploughing through a “confused sea state” with “individual waves coming from different directions all the time”.
    “The inquiry also heard that the crew of the Faithful II, a fishing boat not far behind the Trident when disaster struck, recorded bad weather and eased back on their engines.” (The Press and Journal article, 30October 2009)

    While this makes for exciting reading, we prefer the official view from the first public inquiry (held in 1975 when people's recollections were fresher), which, we feel, may be a closer approximation of the truth than the one being constructed today, 35 years after the event.
    With regards to the weather conditions on the day of the tragedy, the report of the 1975 inquiry mentioned that “at that time the weather was dull, with fine drizzle; wind NNE force 5 to 6; sea from NNE, fairly rough; tide ebbing northwards.”

    Surely Mr Barstow, being an expert on weather, must have realised that the word ‘storm’ is a term that has a distinct meaning on the Beaufort Scale (LINK), equating to force 10 wind conditions, and that a ‘bad storm’ is usually understood to be something approaching force 11, which is just one step down from a hurricane!
    We are also interested to know whether those on the Faithful II did, in fact, record bad weather and, as a result, ease back on their engines, as the current inquiry contends, or whether they described conditions as “giving no cause for concern” and “heave to with engines stopped […] without trouble or anxiety” as mentioned in the report of the 1975 inquiry (see extract below).

    Earlier in the week, we had heard that another of the government’s experts, Mr Graeme Bowles, a Master Mariner, held the erroneous view that an inclining test on the Trident would not have correctly assessed her stability when at sea, and that “a dynamic stability test was usually done to check this” (LINK). Mr Bowles, it would appear, is not aware of past and current stability assessment procedures on UK fishing vessels and of the fact that, at present, safety regulations with regard to ship stability are based almost exclusively on data derived from inclining tests.

    We have also read, in a previous newspaper article, that Ms Ailsa Wilson, counsel for the Advocate General, warned the victims' families that they might have to face an "inconvenient truth". Strangely, in today’s Britain, the “truth” appears to inconvenience the public more often than it does the government. Something must have gone wrong with this “truth” or with our ways of searching for it.
    [1] As yet there has been no official information released concerning the evidence that is being presented in this public inquiry.

    The Trident public inquiry re-opens

    Today marks the first day of the re-opened public inquiry into the tragic loss, in 1974, of the fishing vessel Trident with all seven men onboard.

    Prompted by this occasion, we visited the official DfT website (LINK) for an update on the proceedings.

    Unfortunately, it appears that the official website, set up to deliver public information concerning this important inquiry, has not been updated since 5 June 2009.

    Not a very promising start!

    In order to assist our officials with the dissemination of public information we have provided a (LINK) to a web page where a copy (c/o Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) of the report of the first public inquiry (1975) may be read.

    We would like to hope that the public information that is promised on the official website materialises before this publicly funded investigation concludes and the Sheriff retires to write his report.

    "The purpose of a public inquiry is thus to carry out a full, fair and fearless investigation into the relevant events and to expose the facts to public scrutiny. That is or should be the purpose of every public inquiry." (Lord Justice Clarke, THAMES SAFETY INQUIRY)

    FV Trident – the upcoming court drama

    The FV Trident inquiry is expected to start in October this year. Meanwhile, relatives of the crew, it has been announced, will submit an expert [1] report suggesting that stability problems were a contributing factor to the capsize and loss of the vessel.
    There is also, of course, the official joint report, compiled by a 14-man expert panel, which, we are told, attributes the loss of the Trident to ‘seakeeping problems’.
    These differences of opinion on what caused the tragedy are likely to add further delays to the formal inquiry.

    Although we have not seen either of the above-mentioned reports, we would like to venture a couple of preliminary observations on the subject:
    First, the seakeeping ability of a vessel - which the panel of experts in the Trident inquiry are geared up to blame for the tragedy - is a composite notion, vague enough and large enough to embrace a number of possibilities. Unlike stability, there is no agreed or regulatory yardstick attached to ‘seakeeping’ above which a vessel can be deemed to be safe. Hence, pointing the finger at seakeeping is almost like saying that the vessel did not perform well, that something was wrong with the vessel, without explaining what that was.
    In such a case, it is to be expected that cause and effect and, therefore, blame and liability would be rather difficult to establish. [2]
    And second, it would be very unfair if the expert reports attached to this public inquiry were not to be made public. Having paid, so far, no less than £3 million for the research into the causes of the Trident disaster, the taxpayer deserves full access to that information.

    Anyway, as we have mentioned before, we will be taking a keen interest in the developments of this inquiry, and we hope that officialdom will not be tempted to try their luck again and replicate the travesties of justice that were the Gaul and Derbyshire formal inquiries.
    [1] Expert report on stability deficiencies by Mr Martin Pullinger, naval architect with over 30 years of experience with Burness Corlett & Partners – a marine consultancy firm who provided technical advice to the Gaul and Derbyshire formal investigations.
    [2] This is perhaps the first indication of possible government interference in what should be an impartial technical process.

    New Inquiry into the loss of FV Trident

    The wreck of the FV Trident, which sank off the Caithness coast 35 years ago, was found by amateur divers in 2001.
    This discovery, and the fact that the victims’ families had never accepted the conclusions of the previous investigation into the tragedy, prompted the former Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Byers) to order the re-opening the formal investigation into her loss. This was in 2002.

    Inexplicably, it then took our government seven years to set up this new investigation, which is now, finally, to be opened on October 19, 2009.

    It is, however, very fortunate that the new inquiry will be conducted under the chairmanship of Sir Stephen Young QC, Sheriff Principal of Grampian Highland and Islands.
    In 2002, Sir Stephen, then sheriff of Paisley, headed the investigation into the 1994 Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash and had the fortitude to openly dismiss the idea of pilot error, stating in his report that the conclusions of the RAF investigation, which had put the blame for the fatal accident on the crew, were "flawed".
    The appointment of Sir Stephen should therefore be taken as a good omen.

    We, on our part, will be following the proceedings and direction of the Trident investigation with great interest.

    FV Trident - update

    A year ago, in a post published on this site, we gave a brief account of the of FV Trident tragedy - the Peterhead-registered seine-net trawler which sank on 3 October 1974 with the loss of all seven men on board – and commented on the fact that 6 years after the decision to re-investigate the loss of the Trident had been taken, the RFI was not yet concluded.

    At long last, as recently announced in the press, there is now some movement in the official investigation.
    We do not know yet in which direction things are moving, but hope that the Department for Transport and those responsible for the conduct of this inquiry will have learnt a few lessons from the aftermath of the FV Gaul and MV Derbyshire Formal Investigations and that, this time around, the victims’ families will finally obtain justice.

    FV Trident

    The Trident was a Peterhead-registered seine-net trawler which sank on 3 October 1974 with the loss of seven lives.
    The first Formal Investigation into the sinking of the Trident held in Aberdeen, in 1975, found that the probable cause of the loss was that “Trident took aboard a sea or a succession of seas and foundered” and that “the precise causes of the casualty” were “unascertainable”, although design deficiencies relating to her stability could have contributed to her foundering.
    The wreck of the Trident was discovered in 2001 thereupon the MAIB was able to collect and examine new material evidence in respect of her loss.
    On 22 March 2002 (!), Stephen Byers, then Secretary of State for Environment and Transport, ordered the re-opening of the Formal Investigation.
    In 2003, 2004 and 2006, further surveys were carried out.
    The RFI is under the jurisdiction of the Advocate General for Scotland. Solicitor for the victims’ relatives is Max Gold (who also represented the families of the Gaul’s crew, during the 2004 RFI).

    Today, 6 years since the decision to re-investigate the loss of the Trident was taken, the RFI is still nowhere near its conclusion.
    Recently, the Department for Transport advised the victims’ families that the latest delays were related to the wave tank tests on a model of the vessel.
    The Trident investigation, as was the case with the Gaul, bears commercial implications for the parties involved. We are curious to see how these are going to be dealt with.
    We do not wish to presume anything untoward about anybody, but only hope that the delays in the Trident RFI are not caused by the government’s desire to see first which way the wind is blowing in the Gaul saga (and whatever else might come to light), and then decide on how to handle the Trident.