Glasgow & West Scotland

Clydeport fined £650,000 after Flying Phantom tug deaths

Flying Phantom tug Image copyright PA
Image caption The Flying Phantom capsized in thick fog in 2007

Port operator Clydeport has been fined £650,000 over health and safety failures after three men drowned when their tugboat sank in the River Clyde.

Stephen Humphreys, 33, Eric Blackley, 57, and Robert Cameron, 65, were crew on the Flying Phantom, which capsized in thick fog on 19 December 2007.

Clydeport originally denied breaching health and safety laws but changed its plea to guilty last week.

Tugboat owner Svitzer Marine was fined £1.7m after it admitted failures.

The Flying Phantom, which was based at Greenock, Inverclyde, capsized and sank in heavy fog opposite Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire on 19 December 2007.

At the time of the accident, it had been towing the 77,000-ton Red Jasmine cargo ship, which was carrying a large load of animal feed.

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

Clydeport admitted failing to have in place an adequate contingency plan if fog was encountered, especially when a large vessel was being towed.

It also admitted failing to provide a safety management system and to appoint a suitable individual or individuals as the designated person.

A trial was originally fixed in the case at the High Court in Edinburgh before the plea was negotiated last week.

Judge Lord Kinclaven said the court required to mark the seriousness of the offending by imposing "a substantial fine" on Clydeport.

Serious offence

Lord Kinclaven said: "I appreciate there is nothing that I can do or say in this court that can compensate for the tragic deaths of the late Stephen Humphreys, Robert Cameron and Eric Blackley - or for the ordeal suffered by Brian Aitchison."

The judge said that on the basis of the accepted plea "the proximate cause" of the loss of life on the tug was the offending of Svitzer.

But he added that he had to bear in mind that Clydeport had committed a serious offence over a substantial period of time.

The judge said this had began with "the Abu Egila incident in 2000" - where the Egyptian cargo ship holed the Flying Phantom after they collided during towing in thick fog - and "ended with Red Jasmine incident in 2007".

"Clydeport are correct to take its responsibilities as harbour authority for the Clyde very seriously," said the judge.

He said that the fine imposed on Clydeport would be "significantly lower than the one imposed on Svitzer who accepted responsibility for causing three fatalities".

The judge said that he would allow 28 days for the fine to be paid.

He added that if Clydeport had not accepted its responsibility through the guilty plea it would have faced a penalty in the order of pounds £750,000.

Clydeport failures

Earlier, advocate depute Gillian Wade QC, prosecuting, told the court: "The charge before the court relates to failures on the part of Clydeport to adequately assess risks and provide a safe system of work.

"The present charge is not that Clydeport was the proximate cause of the December 2007 incident by their failures," she said.

The prosecutor said the introduction of new work instructions had ensured "a more robust safety regime for those engaged in towage on the Clyde".

She told the court that a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should have addressed the issue of large vessels encountering thick fog during transit.

Richard Keen QC, counsel for Clydeport, told Lord Kinclaven that when Svitzer pleaded guilty last year it was on the express basis that their breaches of duty had caused the "girting" and sinking of the tug.

"Here in the case of Svitzer clearly their breaches of duty were a significant cause of the death of three men, but it is not the case that any breaches here by Clydeport were a significant cause of such deaths," he said.

"A review, an investigation of Clydeport's systems discloses that it could and indeed should have done things better."

The QC added: "There are no aggravating features here such as a party being told they are not doing it right and then doing nothing about it."

Mr Keen said Clydeport would continue to strive to minimise the hazards linked with navigation on the Clyde.

'Safety first'

Andrew Henderson, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors who represented the families of the men who lost their lives, said: "This fine imposed on Clydeport shows just how serious the breaches of health and safety regulations were.

"The sentence sends out a clear message to all companies who operate on the River Clyde that safety must come first.

"Now that this prosecution is at an end the Crown Office must, without delay, begin a fatal accident inquiry into the Flying Phantom's sinking."

Mr Henderson added: "This is the only way we can learn lessons from this awful accident to make sure something like this never happens again."

Following the tugboat capsize in December 2007, crewman Brian Aitchison, 37, from Coldingham, was rescued from the water after he managed to escape from the vessel's wheelhouse.

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

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

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

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

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