The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has cooperated fully with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch during the course of its investigation into the gangway incident at Heysham on 26 March 2010.

The MAIB report identifies that a number of individual factors contributed to the incident taking place, and that no single factor in isolation was significant.

After the incident the Company immediately started its own internal investigation into the circumstances and quickly implemented a number of changes to its operational procedures. The comprehensive actions taken by the Company have been acknowledged by the MAIB, which has made no further recommendations.

While it was established that there were some items requiring attention when the Ben-my-Chree left dry dock, particularly one of the two bow thrust units, the prevailing weather conditions were such that the ship could manoeuvre safely on one bow thrust unit. Specialists were scheduled to meet the vessel in Heysham to affect a repair to the still defective bow thrust unit.

Satisfactory maintenance of the engines requires that engine turbochargers are cleaned every few days. Engines must be running for this to happen. It has been established practice since the introduction of the Ben-my-Chree for this to take place in harbour. On the day of the incident the repair work to the bow thrust unit necessitated a change to normal procedures which, in the MAIB’s view, contributed to the incident. As a consequence of the internal review, engines are no longer being run while passengers are embarking or disembarking.

The MAIB report examines the use of auto-tension winches and the mooring practices employed by the Steam Packet Company. The Company has 12 years’ experience of operating the Ben-my-Chree in the tidal and, at times, extreme weather conditions of Heysham Port. Annex E of the report contains an independent and detailed risk assessment commissioned by the Company on the operation of auto-tension winches and the relative merits and safety of the mooring practices used by the Company in relation to alternative mooring methods. This assessment has confirmed the suitability of current mooring practices.

A number of the issues covered and recommendations made relate to the passenger gangway at Heysham Port. This facility lies within the remit of the Port, which is responsible for its upkeep. However, the Steam Packet Company will seek appropriate assurances as to the construction and maintenance of a replacement facility.

The Company has also noted the recent legal ruling regarding apportionment of financial liability, as opposed to operational and safety issues, in the Sea Express/Alaska Rainbow incident in the Mersey in February 2007.

Passenger safety was the focus of an investigation by the MAIB, which was carried out immediately following the incident and it published its report in October 2007. The Steam Packet Company also commissioned its own internal investigation. These investigations concluded that errors were made by both parties involved in the incident. As a result, the Steam Packet Company implemented changes to its operating procedures via alterations to its Safety Management System.

Ongoing review and enhancement of the Company’s Safety Management System ensures that passenger safety is continually assessed and improved. The Company’s Safety Management System has recently been audited by external regulatory authorities, as it is every year,  following which the Company was advised that the auditors were satisfied that its Safety Management System was properly constituted, monitored and reviewed when necessary.

The Company has a keen focus on safety and its Safety Management System is recognised as best practice within the industry.

Chief Executive Mark Woodward said: ‘We have cooperated fully with the MAIB during its review of the incident at Heysham. I would like to assure passengers that, as a result of an internal review immediately following the incident, we made procedural changes some months ago. These have been acknowledged by the MAIB to the extent that it has made no further recommendations relating to the Steam Packet Company. Recommendations relating to the Sea Express incident in 2007 were acted upon at that time.

‘Passenger safety is our prime consideration and the Steam Packet Company operates a thorough, comprehensive and responsive Safety Management System. Where ongoing risk assessment and operational experience indicate that processes need to be updated or altered to ensure compliance with our passenger safety objectives, we will act quickly to implement the necessary changes.

‘I would like to apologise again to the passengers involved in the incidents and can assure all passengers that their safety remains our primary concern.’

Robert Quayle, Steam Packet Company Chairman, commented: ‘Safety is, and has always been, the top priority of the Steam Packet Company. There will never be any compromise in our commitment to ensure that all of our customers are protected, in so far as we are able, from the risks that are inevitable in any transport undertaking.

‘The Company is committed to constant review of its management of these risks and, when accidents do happen, lessons are learnt and steps taken to ensure that the chances of those situations arising again are eliminated.
‘We greatly regret the two recent incidents, but the Company has already taken the necessary action to ensure that such incidents do not re-occur.’