HC Deb 28 March 2003 vol 402 cc25-6WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has now completed a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding an incident on 16 January 2003 involving an abortive landing of the passenger ferry ALI CAT.

The ALI CAT is a Class V vessel operating a passenger service only between Dunoon and Gourock during the period 16 October 2002 to 3 April 2003. I understand that arrangements are in place to provide appropriate services for the next 12 month period commencing 4 April 2003. On arrival in the Clyde on 16 October 2002 she was surveyed by an MCA surveyor, found to be in excellent condition and issued with a Class V Passenger Ship Certificate.

Following allegations in November 2002 of the ship operation being unsafe the vessel was inspected twice. The second inspection involved the Health and Safety Executive and resulted in minor recommendations to improve gangway stability. The ship operation on both occasions was found to be safe.

An incident on 16 January 2003 involving an abortive landing of the passenger ferry ALI CAT due to adverse weather conditions, caused passengers to raise concerns. The MCA has instigated a thorough criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding that incident and the general accusation of unsafe operating practices.

The MCA interviewed a total of 14 persons including three passengers that were on board the ALI CAT. The Agency was asked to publicise the inquiry to give more witnesses the opportunity to give evidence. However, criminal investigations are not made available to the public other than through the mechanism of a court trial and therefore this was not appropriate.

A wave height measurement gauge was fitted at Dunoon Pier in January 2003. The ship operator modified on-board procedures instructing the Master of the ALI CAT not to embark or disembark passengers at the pier when the wave height is in excess of 0.6 metres (the lower limit of the maximum range recommended).

There were occasions when the ALI CAT did berth at Dunoon Pier contrary to the Pier Masters advice before the wave gauge was installed. However, the legal position in this situation is that it is the Master/Skipper who decides whether it is safe to dock the vessel, and this may differ from the advice of the pier authority. No statement taken during the MCA's investigation indicated that the ALI CAT was advised not to berth on the 16 January 2003. The Assistant Pier Master, the Master and the Mate of the ALI CAT were all interviewed.

Since the wave height gauge was installed in January 2003 there have been no occasions when the skipper has ignored the advice from the pier master and berthed the ALI CAT at Dunoon.

The MCA's report has determined that there was no serious breach of the Merchant Shipping Regulations caused by the incident on the 16 January 2003. It would be inappropriate to publicise the evidence taken and the deliberations which led MCA to arrive at this conclusion. However, the report recommended that: The owner of ALI CAT should develop Risk Analysis Plans for each of the routes operated by his vessels, with particular regard to systems of mooring in different weather conditions, which can be expected throughout the year. Caledonian MacBrayne, Argyll and Bute Council and the owner of the ALI CAT should undertake a joint review of the mooring system.

The MCA have contacted the Chief Inspector of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and advised him of the latest developments in relation to the ALI CAT incident. The Chief Inspector has reviewed the details in relation to the ALI CAT incident and has reconfirmed that the incident does not warrant investigation by the MAIB.