HL Deb 03 June 1996 vol 572 cc107-8WA
Lord Brabazon of Tara

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to carry out the return expedition to the wreck of the MV "Derbyshire".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

The return expedition to the wreck of the "Derbyshire" will take place in two phases. The first phase will be a limited sonar and photographic survey of the wreckage field, to be carried out in late June or early July by Oceaneering Technologies, who undertook the initial expedition in 1994. It is expected that the main expedition will take place early next year. The Department of Transport and the European Commission are sharing the costs of both phases.

The first phase will involve a detailed survey of the wreckage field with the aim of identifying individual parts of the ship and, in particular, to establish the location and accessibility of the ship's stern. The material collected is intended to assist in the detailed planning of the main expedition.

The purpose of the return to the "Derbyshire" is to see what lessons can be learnt from the loss of this particular ship which could help avoid future bulker losses and the continuing loss of life such losses involve. Planning and control of both phases rests with three independent technical assessors. Ministry of Defence officials will act as project managers overseeing the activities of the appointed contractor or contractors.

On completion of the second phase they will prepare a report on their findings and conclusions which will be submitted to Ministers and the European Commission. Their report will be published and, following its completion, the data recovered will be made available to interested parties.

It is possible that this report may lead to the reopening of the Formal Investigation into the loss of the "Derbyshire" and the taking forward of specific safety initiatives through the International Maritime Organization.

We have given sympathetic consideration to the request from the Derbyshire Families Association that they should be represented on, or have a degree of control over, the return to the ship. We have concluded that this would not be appropriate. The association is one of a number of parties with an interest in the outcome of the return expedition. For one of these parties, but not the others, to be represented on the return expedition could lead to suggestions that the findings lacked balance or objectivity. For all the parties to be represented on the return would be impractical given the nature of the operations to be undertaken. To allow the independent assessors to complete their task, without any risk that they could be considered to have been influenced in any way, it has also been decided that the Department of Transport, Marine Safety Agency and Marine Accident Investigation Branch will not be represented on either phase of the return.

We continue to welcome the advice and involvement of all parties in the planning of the return. The independent technical assessors stand ready to discuss matters with any interested party.