Monday, 9 August 2010

The FV Trident Investigation – Another Public Inquiry - Another disgrace

In an earlier post we gave an overview on how the re-opened Trident casualty investigation (RFI) was being conducted and managed by the Advocate General towards an outcome that would be preferred by at least one of the departments in our current Government (the DfT).

Recently we have learnt that the JPE (the RFI’s Joint Panel of Experts) had also taken it upon themselves to rewrite the official records of Trident’s intact stability.

Work done:

The JPE have changed the official DOT lightship particulars for Trident (from those used in the original investigation):

Original investigation (OFI) 1975

Lightship displacement[1] = 149.83 tonnes (147.46 imperial tons)
VCG[2] position = 3.197m above keel (10.487 feet)
LCG[3] position = 9.971m forward of the rudder stock (3.525 feet aft of amidships)

Re-opened investigation (RFI) 2010

Lightship displacement = 153.01 tonnes
VCG position = 3.18m above keel
LCG position = 9.95m forward of the rudder stock

They have also modified the weights of the items that she was assumed to be carrying on the day of her last voyage (the original figures can be seen in the NMI/Morrall testing report page 13 and in the report of the original investigation - condition A2):
  • They increased the amount of fuel she was carrying by 1.75 tonnes to 6.75 tonnes
  • They doubled the amount of fresh water on board to 3 tonnes
  • They reduced the amount of stores in the upper focsle space from 1.5 tonnes to 0.45 tonnes and removed 1 tonne of stores from the lower focsle space
  • They reduced the weight of the fish boxes in the hold from 3.37 tonnes to 2.4 tonnes
  • They reduced the weight of the lube oil drums in the engine room by 20kg
  • They reduced the weight of fishing nets from 3.6 tonnes to 3 tonnes
  • They increased the weight of the gallows chain from 0.27 to 0.45 tonnes
  • They removed the ‘dog rope’
  • They increased the amount of engine room stores by 100kg
  • They increased the amount allowed for the crew’s effects by 90kg
In brief, the effect of the JPE’s modifications has been to increase Trident’s notional stability reserves[4] by about 10% for her final sailing and loss condition.

If we look at the stability of the Trident in both the original and the JPE-modified conditions we can see that in her original condition, Trident is clearly non-compliant with IMCO minimum stability criteria, however, after the JPE modifications have been applied, her stability improves to the point where she only marginally fails to meet the IMCO minima:

What were the motives behind the JPE’s actions?

1. To ‘update’ our official records to indicate that, contrary to the evidence contained in the report of the 1975 formal investigation and in the 1976 NMI/Morrall report, the Trident’s stability at the time of her loss 'complied substantially with IMCO'[5] minimum standards, and that, therefore, non-compliance was not a factor in her loss.

(RFI Transcript for 12 July 2010 – Advocate General page 102:)

2. To request the Sheriff to dismiss the conclusions from the original 1975 formal investigation and the subsequent model tests carried out NMI/Morrall in 1976;

(RFI Transcript for 12 July 2010, page 105:)

3. And finally to oblige the Sheriff to conclude:

(RFI Transcript for 12 July 2010, page 74)

Our conclusion

The callous way in which the current investigation into the tragic loss of the Trident and her seven crew members has been scripted by the DfT and conducted by the AG towards a pre-determined outcome reveals the depths that our Government, and those it employs, will stoop in order to maintain policies that, regardless of their warped perception of the public interest, they know are both unjust and unlawful.

This is nothing less than a national disgrace

An extended pdf version of this article is available HERE.

[1] Lightship displacement = the floating weight of the empty ship
[2] VCG = the position of the vertical centre of gravity of the ship’s weight
[3] LCG = the position of the longitudinal centre of gravity of the ship’s weight
[4] Note:  In 1975, the Court’s experts carried out a very comprehensive and careful investigation into Trident’s stability characteristics - in terms of ascertaining her empty hull weight, position of centre of gravity and the items of fishing gear, fuel, water and stores she was carrying onboard at the time of her loss. There is no substantive reason or factual basis to justify the changes that have now been carried out by the JPE.
[5] This was the stated position of the DOT throughout the 1975 Formal Investigation

The stability of the fishing vessel Trident

The Court hearings into the loss of the FV Trident have now concluded and we have been advised that the Sheriff Principal has retired to write his report. 
Although the control of the technical information, relevant to these hearings, has been unprecedented for a public inquiry, secretive even, the Advocate General’s views on what the preferred outcome should be have been frequently aired in the press:
She said: There is no reliable evidence to support a finding that the loss of the Trident was caused by deficiencies in her design stability, in particular non-compliance with the recommended IMCO intact stability criteria, or by capsizing in different circumstances.
The most probable cause of the loss of Trident was a sudden and catastrophic capsize in heavy seas, which most likely occurred within two or three seconds and was followed by rapid sinking.
Notwithstanding these points, one piece of factual information about Trident, which has recently managed to break through into the public domain as a result of a freedom of information request to the DfT, is a 34-year-old technical report on the tank testing that was carried out on a scale model of the Trident by the National Maritime Institute in 1976.

Although the NMI report is very carefully worded, it concludes that the Trident’s stability reserves were insufficient to prevent her from capsizing in sea conditions that were relatively moderate, ie in conditions similar to those that were recorded on the day she was lost. The report also shows that on her last voyage, Trident’s stability was deficient when compared to the IMCO minimum stability standards. It is unfortunate that for many years the Department of Trade have been unwilling to share these important conclusions with the relatives of those who were lost.

Apart from its conclusions, the NMI report also contains some information that is of real interest to Naval Architects: it contains a scaled body plan and loading data. What the release of this information actually means is that the curious amongst us can now check out the stability reserves of the Trident for ourselves – we no longer have to accept the official, sanitised, line that has been consistently promulgated by the DfT over the years and which has now also been adopted by the OAG.

Stability assessment

We constructed a computer model of the Trident’s hull and carried out an assessment of Trident’s stability reserves against the minimum standards that are laid down by IMCO for fishing vessels:

We have thus discovered that Trident did not meet the IMCO minimum stability criteria in any of the four principal loading conditions. 

We were also able to confirm that the Trident did not meet the IMCO stability criteria on the day she was lost and, furthermore, even if 10 tonnes of steel ballast had been added to her keel, she would still have been unable to meet the IMCO stability criteria in all of the four standard sailing conditions.

The following image contains the summary results of our stability assessment, the data that is highlighted in orange shows IMCO non-compliances in each of the six sailing conditions examined. Alternatively, this file [link] contains a copy of the stability assessment in a pdf format.

The IMCO stability standards are minima, which, when met, should prevent a vessel from capsizing in all but the most severe of weather conditions. They come as a package and they need to be complied with in their entirety.
Since 1975, all UK fishing vessels of the Tridents type and size have been obliged to meet the IMCO stability standards in full. Any vessel that did not meet the IMCO stability standard would not have been issued with a UK fishing vessel safety certificate by the MCA and would, therefore, have been unable to fish.

The Trident did not meet IMCO’s minimum stability standards and unfortunately the nature of her non-compliance was such that the mere addition of ballast would not have resolved this problem. For Trident, as in the case of her sister vessel, the Silver Lining, significant structural modifications would have been necessary to bring her stability reserves up to the required standard.

A ship’s propensity to capsize and its inherent stability are inextricably interrelated; the very fact that Trident capsized is conclusive evidence that Trident had insufficient stability for the sea conditions on the day she was lost.
Additionally, the fact that Trident did not meet IMCO’s minimum stability standards (i.e. her stability was deficient) would certainly have increased her propensity to capsize.

ADDENDUM (19 July 2010)

Stability model comparison

The output from our stability model was compared against the results obtained for the Trident’s loss condition from the DOT’s SIKOB program in 1976 (the SIKOB results are contained both in the final report of the original Formal Investigation and in the 1976 NMI model test report). The results from the 2010 computer program and the 1976 SIKOB program were found to be virtually identical (only 3mm difference in floating draught and 7mm difference in trim over 22 metres):

However, it was noted that the original 1976 calculations contained a small input error and, when the input to the 2010 program was modified to rectify this anomaly, the stability results were reduced slightly:

FV Trident Inquiry - Preliminary comment

Recent reports in the press advise us [Aberdeen Press and Journal and BBC] that Scotland's Advocate General (AG) is of the view that lack of stability was not a significant factor in Trident’s capsize and loss, and that the old chestnut - ‘heavy seas’ - has popped up again as explanation of the 1974 tragedy:
The most probable cause of the loss of Trident was a sudden and catastrophic capsize in heavy seas.
This proposition by the AG does not really hold any weight for a vessel of Trident’s size and type, even when we take into account the more severe weather conditions (force 7-8 or 9 even?) that were generated for the RFI at the behest of its ‘panel of experts’.

Indeed, if this were a plausible hypothesis, we would have had many Trident-type losses (of IMCO-compliant fishing vessels) during the past 36 years and national legislation providing for increased intact stability standards would have needed to be introduced. This, however, has never happened.


In the original Formal Investigation, the Court reached the conclusion that "reliance cannot be placed on the soundness of the design of Trident" and that "she was probably of inadequate stability".
After reviewing the whole of their evidence, they further concluded that " in all the circumstances it would be unrealistic to conclude that her loss was due solely to the action of the sea and, finaly, that inadequate stability is the factor most likely to underlie her foundering in conditions which would not normally have overwhelmed a ship of her size."

(More to follow)

FV Trident - Centres of gravity

During the Original Formal Investigation (OFI - 1975) into the loss of the fishing vessel Trident, matters pertaining to her stability were examined in great depth; however, when it came to writing the final report of the investigation, the Court felt unable to make a pronouncement on whether the Trident had met IMCO’s minimum stability standards or not:
It is impossible to assert categorically that Trident did or did not comply with the IMCO recommendations, to which it was intended that she should be built
Apart from the uncertainty arising from the absence of an inclining experiment, one of the principal reasons cited for this unfortunate lack of assurance was the fact that there were known discrepancies between the designer’s original drawings and the as-built hull shape of the Trident and her sister vessel, the Silver Lining.

In the OFI’s final report, this point was emphasised by including two stability calculations as an Annex, one based upon the dimensions taken from the designer’s drawings (Bute lines) and one based upon the dimensions lifted from her sister vessel, the Silver Lining (Napier lines).

These two sets of stability calculations show that the Trident’s stability passed the IMCO recommendations when the calculations were carried out based upon the ‘Bute lines’ dimensions, but failed the IMCO recommendations when the same calculations were carried out based upon the ‘Napier Lines’ dimensions:

Partial copies from OFI final report plus amendments

This all seems to be quite straightforward and, apparently, justifies the Court’s uncertainty on this matter.

However, what is not immediately apparent, both from the 1976 OFI report and from the transcripts of Court evidence, is the fact that the real reason why the Bute hulled version of Trident ‘passed’ and the Napier hulled version of Trident ‘failed’ was that the vertical centres of gravity (VCG) that were used for these two separate stability calculations were different:
  • Bute hull lightship VCG = 10.072 feet above the keel (a value of unspecified provenance)
  • Napier hull lightship VCG = 10.487 feet above the keel (value derived from the inclining experiment carried out on Silver Lining and subsequently used in the 1976 NMI research)
If the same vertical centre of gravity figures had been used in both of these two stability calculations, they would have indicated either a double failure (when the VCGs = 10.487 ft) or a double pass (when the VCGs = 10.072 ft)
i.e The Trident’s stability calculations would show a pass or a fail (with respect to the IMCO stability standard) dependent upon the value of VCG used and not, as the OFI implied, due to differences between the Bute and Napier hull geometries, which were not, by themselves, sufficient to influence the results of the stability calculations.

What is more, it would appear that this was not just an oversight, but more of a deliberate ‘smoke and mirrors’ exercise by the DOT who, when they drafted conditions A1 and A2, also forgot to include the lightship VCG figures in the tables that are contained in the final OFI report:

If one reads through the transcripts of evidence for the 1975 inquiry, it is notable yet again [link to previous FV Gaul post] that Council for the DOT (who in 1975 carried out similar functions to those performed by the AG in the 2010 inquiry) was quite anxious to put forward the notion that Trident had complied substantially with the IMCO minimum standards.

(More to come)

Freedom of Information

One day before the prescribed deadline, the Department for Transport responded to our FOI request of 2 June 2010 (see also our post of 06 June 2010) by providing us with the 1976 NMI report (a version made public today) and advising that
the Department does not hold a copy of the first draft of the report, nor any subsequent minutes of meeting discussing the document.

Well, imagine what would happen if they did…

Frankly, the FOI Act is not worth the paper it is written on, for any government office can, when cornered, claim that they don’t hold the documents that they don’t want the public to see.
The FOI Act does not provide for such eventualities, as it assumes a level of straightforwardness on the part of our public servants, which, nowadays, may no longer exist.

(More to come)

IMCO Standards and Contractual Requirements

With reference to the article published today in the Aberdeen Press and Journal:

For those interested in more details about IMCO stability standards, White Fish Authority grants and trawlers built in the early seventies, the following link to a 1975 Parliamentary Debate on the Fishing Vessel ‘Silver Lining’ (& FV Trident) may be a worthwhile source of information:

The FV Trident Re-opened Formal Investigation – June 2010

We are now approaching the 50th day of hearings in this second public inquiry into the loss of the trawler Trident and its 7-man crew. The cost of this investigation is also said to be nearing £4m and, according to recent reports in the press, nobody appears to be fully satisfied with the way it is currently heading.

The original 1975 inquiry sat for 10 days, managed to cover a lot of ground and, although the precise cause of the casualty was unascertainable at that time (there was no wreck or eye witness testimony to the event), was eventually able to conclude:

“that inadequate stability is the factor most likely to underlie her foundering in conditions which would not normally have overwhelmed a ship of her size”

Subsequently, at the behest of the Department of Trade, the National Maritime Institute ran a series of tests on a model of the Trident (in the period 1975/6) the results of which added considerable weight to the conclusions of the 1975 public inquiry. Unfortunately, however, the conclusions from these model tests (that Trident had insufficient stability) were neither made public nor passed on to the relatives of the crew, thus denying closure to those who had suffered the greatest loss.

Nothing then happened for 25 years until 2001 when a team of amateur divers, searching for the wreck of HMS Exmouth, came across the Trident’s wreck off the coast of Caithness. In 2002, following an official underwater survey of the wreck site by the MAIB, Stephen Byers, then Secretary of State for Transport, decided to re-open the formal investigation, announcing that important new evidence [*] had been discovered.

With hindsight, it now seems that it was at this point in time when the investigative processes started to go wrong.

Following the discovery of the wreck and the evidence it revealed, investigators should have been in a position to:


i) Endorse the conclusions of the 1975 inquiry and the NMI model tests (i.e. inadequate stability) and thus bring an end to 25 years of uncertainty


ii) Reveal important new evidence from the wreck site, which countered the conclusions of the original inquiry, and advise us of the alternative cause for Trident’s loss.

This process should have taken no more than a few days of the Court’s time, and would have allowed everyone, in a timely manner, to obtain closure and get on with their lives.

Eight years further down the line, it would now seem that, in 2002, the Department for Transport (DfT) decided instead to embark upon a third option:

iii) Overturn the conclusions of both the 1975 inquiry and the 1976 NMI model tests without any new or important evidence

You may ask how they could do this.

Quite simply, really - rewrite history, redefine the applicable technology, add a bit of obfuscation and, in the absence of new and important evidence – make use of statistics and computers to generate some - although obviously this process was to take some time and be rather expensive (8 years and £4m so far……).

So, what have they been doing during these past eight years?

  • They formed a investigating team called the Joint Panel of Experts
  • Two further underwater surveys of the wreck site were carried out including onsite measurements of the Trident’s hull – possibly to seek out ways to ‘enhance’ the deficient stability reserves that were calculated for Trident in 1975
  • Two new computer simulations for the weather were prepared by leading weather experts – to dismiss the assessment of prevailing weather and wave conditions that was given by Dr Draper in 1975 (wind force 5-6) and substitute weather conditions and waves corresponding to winds of force 7-8 instead
  • Model testing was carried out in the MARIN test facility in the Netherlands together with computer simulations of model tests - to obtain capsize events on the Trident model with revised weather and sea conditions - to dismiss the 1976 conclusions from the NMI model tests
  • A report was drawn up by the Joint Panel of Experts containing technical arguments to justify their new conclusion that ‘sea-keeping’ rather than ‘stability’ was the cause for Trident’s loss.

So what have they been doing during the past 50 days of Court hearings?
  • Discussing all of the above and generating more than 8000 pages of unintelligible evidence

Why are they doing this?
  • To make sure that the Court concludes that Trident sank for reasons other than deficient stability (with its implicit inference that someone was at fault).

All at taxpayers’ expense.

[*] The Merchant Shipping Act stipulates that if, subsequent to a casualty investigation either “new and important evidence” or a miscarriage of justice is revealed, the Secretary of State for Transport is required to re-open the formal investigation.