Serious questions over vessel safety on Loch Lomond

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The report into the sinking of the Vixen raises serious questions about the safety of all vessels on Loch Lomond.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that the Vixen "was in poor condition, was overloaded and was being operated by unqualified crew".

It seems clear that this was an accident waiting to happen and, in the words of the report, it was "extremely fortunate" that no-one died.

A female passenger aboard the Vixen, who was not given a lifejacket, was dragged under as the vessel foundered.

Had she been "snagged by the line around her arm, she might have drowned," the MAIB found.

Safety oversight

That is worrying enough, but the MAIB also concluded that there was not "effective oversight of commercially-operated passenger vessels on Loch Lomond".

It pointed out that the Vixen was being operated contrary to the legal requirements of the coastguard, Argyll and Bute Council and the national park authority.

The operators, it said, had been banned from taking passengers on the loch because its skippers were not appropriately qualified.

Nonetheless, they continued to operate the ferry and were not stopped from doing so.

Stirling and West Dunbartonshire Councils were criticised for not having systems for licensing small commercial vessels.

The report's authors appear to be in no doubt that the public bodies in question have not taken adequate responsibility for ensuring that vessels on Loch Lomond are safe.

The MAIB's recommendations include:

  • The Vixen's operators must obtain the required operating licence for any commercial ferries between Ardlui and Ardleish and must operate them in accordance with the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code;
  • Argyll and Bute Council must adopt the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code and require small boats carrying fewer than 12 passengers to be regularly surveyed by a competent person;
  • Those two recommendations also apply to Stirling Council and West Dunbartonshire Council which must also establish boat licensing systems;
  • The Maritime and Coastguard Agency must advise and work with the local authorities to establish "robust licensing schemes" on Loch Lomond and facilitate the effective and legal survey of small passenger boats on the loch;
  • Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority must support the coastguard and local authorities to "improve the oversight, licensing and safety of small passenger vessels" on the loch by "establishing proactive measures to enforce" existing byelaws and must also ensure that park rangers' concerns about vessels are passed on to the relevant authorities;
  • Transport Scotland must provide guidance and encouragement to councils on the importance of establishing robust licensing regimes for small passenger vessels.

Until these measures are carried out, pleasure-seekers may well remain concerned about whether they are taking their lives in their hands when they head out on to Loch Lomond.

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