Duck boat sailings: Investigators call for temporary ban

Many people jumped into the river from the London Duck Tours craft. The MAIB said the foam was packed too tightly on the Thames craft

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Amphibious landing craft used for tourist sailings should be banned until problems affecting buoyancy are resolved, say investigators.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) blamed buoyancy foam for accidents in Liverpool on 15 June and London on 29 September.

"It was... fortunate on both occasions there were no serious injuries or loss of life," said the MAIB.

The operator of the Liverpool boat has since gone into administration.

Chief Marine Accident Inspector Captain Steve Clinch, said: "The sinking of Wacker Quacker 1 in Salthouse Dock, Liverpool, and the fire on board Cleopatra on the River Thames were serious marine accidents involving Second World War DUKW [nicknamed Ducks] amphibious vehicles that had been modified for use as sightseeing tour vehicles.

Amphibious DUKWs - or Ducks

Amphibious DUKWs
  • The DUKW - also known as a Duck - is a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck first made in the US in the mid-1940s,
  • 21,000 DUKWs were produced for use during World War II to move men and materials ashore where no port facilities existed
  • Many served on D-Day and in the Normandy landings where 40% of supplies landed on the beaches were carried by DUKWs
  • DUKWs remained in service with the British and other armies into the 1970s

Source: The Yellow Duckmarine

"Both accidents resulted in the rapid abandonment into the water of passengers, including small children, and crew. It was extremely fortunate that, on both occasions, there were no serious injuries or loss of life.

"Although one accident involved the sinking of a DUKW as a result of flooding, and the other involved a fire, the link between both events is the foam inserted into the DUKWs to provide buoyancy."

Mr Clinch said that in Liverpool not enough foam had been inserted into the DUKW, while in the Thames incident the foam was packed too tightly around machinery, leading to friction and overheating causing a fire.

'Safe operation compromised'

He added: "Attempts to resolve how much foam is required in the DUKWs, and how it should be inserted, have been ongoing for several months, during which time the vessels have continued to carry passengers.

"However, the results of the investigation into the fire on Cleopatra indicate that the current method of inserting foam is not working, as it compromises the safe operation of the vessels.

He said he has recommended to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) that DUKWs should "not be permitted to operate until the required standards of buoyancy and stability can be achieved without adversely impacting on their safe operation."

John Bigos, managing director of London Duck Tours (LDT), said: "LDT publically acknowledges the constructive approach of Transport for London, Vehicle Operating Service Agency, MAIB and the MCA. LDT will now work with the MCA to undertake the necessary seaborne modifications required."

The MCA said it had noted the recommendation and it intended to work with operators to "issue appropriate instruction and guidance on how best to ensure the DUKWs have the necessary level of safety".

"We will not be permitting the vessels to operate until we are satisfied that the necessary safety measures have been achieved," a spokesman said.

The Liverpool incident led to 31 passengers and two crewmen abandoning the vessel. All were recovered without serious injury.

The Thames incident involved the vessel's master beaching the vehicle before ordering the evacuation of passengers and crew. Again, there were no serious injuries.

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