Glasgow & West Scotland

Firms charged over River Clyde Flying Phantom tug deaths

Eric Blackley, Robert Cameron and Stephen Humphreys
Image caption Eric Blackley, Robert Cameron and Stephen Humphreys died after the sinking

Two firms are to face criminal charges over the sinking of a tugboat in the River Clyde, which led to the deaths of three crewmen.

The Flying Phantom capsized in thick fog on 19 December 2007, killing skipper Stephen Humphreys, 33; Eric Blackley, 57; and Robert Cameron, 65.

An inquiry later criticised the boat's owner, Danish firm Svitzer, and port operator Clydeport over the deaths.

Both firms will now face charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The Flying Phantom, which was based at Greenock, was trying to guide a cargo vessel to a dock when it sank at about 18:10 opposite Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire.

Salvage operation

Crewman Brian Aitchison, from Coldingham, was rescued from the water after he managed to escape from the tug's wheelhouse.

The bodies of skipper Mr Humphreys, from Greenock in Inverclyde, along with Mr Cameron, from Houston in Renfrewshire, and Mr Blackley, from Gourock, Inverclyde, were later recovered.

The tug itself was raised in a salvage operation the following month.

A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) inquiry later found that the boat's towing winch had not released quickly enough, which meant it was capsized by the vessel it was pulling.

The report also highlighted highlighted failings in procedure to ensure the tug operated safely in foggy weather.

It found that the routine the tug crew followed before towing or entering fog was "ineffective", with the watertight engine room door left open and the crew not being used in the most effective manner once in the fog.

There were also no defined procedures for the tug operators when assisting or towing in restricted visibility, it said.

The report also highlighted the lack of an accepted international industry standard for tug tow line emergency release systems, and asked risk management organisation Lloyd's Register to develop a standard to ensure tow lines can be released effectively in an emergency.

The MAIB report also criticised port operator Clydeport.

It said control measures had proven ineffective.

Damages claims

Major shortcomings in the port's safety management system were also overlooked because there was no "designated person" in charge, the report found.

The accident investigators made a number of recommendations, including that Clydeport appoint someone as "designated person" under the Port Marine Safety Code.

The report said that UK ports appeared not to have learnt lessons from accidents at other ports.

Image caption The tug sank opposite Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire

Following the tragedy, the widows of the three crewmen launched a damages claim against Clydeport.

They also criticised what they described as an unacceptable delay in holding a fatal accident inquiry.

The latest development came in a short statement from the Crown Office on Monday, which said: "Crown counsel have instructed that two companies be indicted for trial in the high court.

"Clydeport Operations Limited and Svitzer Marine Limited are to face charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in relation to events surrounding an incident on the River Clyde on 19 December 2007 involving the Greenock-based tug boat, The Flying Phantom.

"The families of the three crew who lost their lives have been updated in relation to this development."

More on this story