A global marine company has been heavily fined after one of its tugs, the Flying Phantom, sank in 2007, leading to the deaths of three of the four crew members.
The fatal accident occurred on 19 December 2007 when the Flying Phantom – a tug boat owned by Svitzer Marine Limited – was towing a 77,000-tonne cargo vessel in heavy fog. Whilst the Flying Phantom was towing the cargo ship the winch broke, pulling the tug boat under the surface of the River Clyde. This resulted in three of the four crew members being drowned, with skipper Stephen Humphrey, 33, Mr Eric Blackley, 57, and Mr Robert Cameron, 65, perishing in the accident. The fourth crew member, Mr Brian Aitchison, managed to escape from the tugboat. It is not currently known whether he has made or will claim personal injury against the company.
The accident was referred to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and an investigation into the circumstances of the accident was commenced. This investigation concluded that there had been a number of health and safety breaches by the company, including a failure to provide suitable work equipment and that the company had also failed to implement a safe system of work to allow work to be undertaken safely. The MAIB investigation therefore recommended that the company be prosecuted for health and safety offences.
The case came before the Edinburgh High Court on 13 November 2013. Svitzer Marine Limited pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £1.7 million as a result.
Judge Lord Turnbull commented when passing sentence on the company: “In identifying the particular level of fine I consider appropriate in the present case I am not seeking to identify the level of the worth of the individuals who lost their lives. Nor am I seeking to reflect in financial terms the measure of the loss suffered by their families. In the end of the day any sentence imposed by me will likely seem insignificant compared to the sentence which they have had imposed on them.”
Andrew Henderson, from Thompsons Solicitors, which acted for the families, stated: “Although the conclusion of criminal action against Switzer is welcome, it is extremely worrying that almost six years on from the tragic deaths of three men in the course of their employment there has been no fatal accident inquiry held into those deaths.”
Neither the company, nor its criminal defence solicitors, appear to have commented on the sentencing.
Redmans Solicitors are employment solicitors based in London
Please note that Redmans were not associated with this case in any form