HC Deb 28 January 2003 vol 398 cc708-9
7. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)

What discussions he has had with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency regarding the safety of passengers travelling on the catamaran Ali Cat from Gourock to Dunoon. [93535]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

Surveyors from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency inspected the Ali Cat on 29 October, 21 November and again on 28 November 2002 with the Health and Safety Executive. The ship was found to be operating safely. Minor recommendations were made to reduce movement of the gangway and the MCA continues to monitor the situation.

Mr. Reid

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware of the incident at Dunoon pier on 16 January, about which I have sent him statements from passengers. Will he ensure that a public inquiry is held into that incident because passengers were close to being killed? At that inquiry, will passengers or their legal representatives be able to question the managing director of CalMac and the owner of the vessel, because in letters to the press those gentlemen have arrogantly dismissed passengers' concerns? Will the role of the MCA also be questioned? It is a matter of great concern that the MCA granted the vessel a licence to operate in those waters. The main concern is the safety of the vessel not at sea, but at Dunoon pier.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is far too long.

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important matter. I know, from the correspondence that he has sent me and the evidence that he has received from his constituents and others, that a very serious situation could have developed on 16 January. I share his concerns. I assure him that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has launched a very full investigation of the points made by his constituents and others. The pier authority at Dunoon has now fitted a wave gauge to assist the masters of vessels. I think that the problem is not so much the vessel and its quality, but the conditions in which it is operating. Caledonian MacBrayne issued instructions to masters not to embark or disembark passengers when waves were higher than 0.6 m. I shall look very carefully at the agency's investigation. Once we have its report, we shall decide what further action to take.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Given that the catamaran normally operates on the Solent as a pleasure cruiser in the summer months, the Minister will understand that there will be concerns about its suitability for use on the River Clyde in the depths of winter, when conditions are frequently as bad as those to which he alluded. What assurances can I give my constituents who use the ferry regularly that when they do so, they will be travelling in complete safety?

Mr. Jamieson

My hon. Friend's comment is extremely important. The point is not that the vessel is inherently unsafe but that the conditions and height of the waves on the day to which the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) referred created the danger. When the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has delivered its report and made its recommendations, I shall certainly ensure that Members are informed and that anything we can learn from those is used in the operation of the vessel.