Scottish Government Calls for Changes in Coastguard Inspection Protocols Following Two Sinkings

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise ship inspectionIt seems as though we aren’t the only ones experiencing issues with maritime vessels here in the U.S., apparently, officials in Scotland are not very pleased with the work of their Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) inspection protocols. In the wake of our maritime lawyers finding out that Carnival Cruise Line knew about the possible risk of fires associated with engine fuel hoses and advised the Triumph to install spray shields before the highly publicized fire accident in February, we have just learned that the Scottish Coast Guard is in trouble for an accident involving a cooling system as well.

According to reports from Scottish authorities, the government’s Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has called for improvements with the Coastguard’s vessel inspection and survey policies. The reason? Two major maritime accidents involving sunken ships. The first vessel that sunk was a Scottish fishing boat and the other (only a month after the first accident) involved an English trawler. With both sinkings, it was determined that the vessels had identical problems with their cooling systems.

The first vessel, a twin rigged stern trawler named the Audacious, sunk off the coast of Aberdeenshire. The second boat, a beam trawler named the Chloe T, sank southwest of Bold Head in Devon 22 days later.

Miraculously, no one was killed in either accident as the crews of both vessels were able to abandon ship after their engine rooms began to flood. With both incidents, officials believe the seawater cooling systems malfunctioned.

Though accidents can happen, the fact that both of these maritime accidents – which could have turned out much worse – were the result of faulty cooling systems. It appears as though Coastguard crews failed to properly inspect the systems, leading the nation’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) to call for improvements with the agency’s inspection methods.

According to Steve Clinch, the head of the MAIB, while the responsibility for ensuring the structural integrity of all vessels lies with the boat’s owners, it is the responsibility of the Coastguard to inspect their vessels and make sure that vessel owners are maintaining their responsibilities and upholding the highest standards of maritime safety.

The investigation of both accidents led the MAIB to determine that Coastguard agency needs to improve their surveyor’s roles in inspecting and testing vessel equipment to ensure everything is running smoothly.

Additionally, the MAIB noted that the MCA’s policies when it comes to keeping records of accidents also needs improvements. With both vessels, authorities found that the MCA had failed to perform intermediate inspections and had delayed the renewal survey process.

Though these accidents occurred within less than a month of each other, the MCA has already been criticized before for a similar lack of thoroughness with their inspection and record keeping methods. Back in 2005, when a fishing vessel named Harvest Hope sank, an inquiry into the accident revealed that there were similar shortfalls with the agency’s protocols. Seven years later, authorities believed these issues would have been addressed, but they weren’t.

The same can be said for our maritime agencies in the United States, particularly the cruising industry. Accidents and crimes occur on a regular basis, yet ships continue to lack up-to-date safety systems, including infrared technology that can detect overboard passengers the instant the incident occurs as well as an overall failure to properly train crew members on how to handle emergency systems.

Following the Costa Concordia capsizing in January 2012, the dire need for safety improvements and regulations within the cruise industry became very apparent. Moreover, before this summer, cruise lines weren’t even fully disclosing information on accidents or crimes to the FBI or Coastguard. Because cruise lines register their ships in foreign countries, they have been able to get away with underreporting incidents, but hopefully with the implementation of the new Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which requires crime and accident data to be reported to the public, this practice will soon come to an end.

But the reality of the matter is the fact that all maritime agencies – at some point – have engaged in negligent practices. When dealing with any type of sea vessel, it is important that the highest standards of safety are practiced in order to prevent a disastrous accident. Just because no one was killed in either of these recent sinkings (we don’t know if anyone was injured), doesn’t mean the issue of safety – or lack thereof – should be ignored. When it comes to maritime safety, there’s always room for improvement. Accidents that result from a maritime organization’s failure to properly inspect a vessel are inexcusable and anyone involved in these types of incidents has the right to seek legal help with an experienced maritime lawyer.