A catalogue of errors were to blame for a huge container ship running aground on the Farne Islands earlier this year, sparking fears of an environmental disaster.
Wildlife wardens feared the worst in March when bad weather caused the 1,800 tonne MV Danio to become stuck on the rocks off Seahouses for 12 days after ploughing into the internationally-known nature reserve offf the Northumberland coast.
Thankfully the 80m-long ship, which was carrying timber from Perth to Belgium, was eventually pulled off the rocks by a tugboat but questions remained as to how it had been allowed to run aground in such a busy shipping lane.
A new investigation has discovered a combination of human error and inadequate equipment were behind the incident, which put thousands of puffins and grey seals as well as more than 20 bird species that breed there in real danger.
“If it had started breaking up with fuel oil and the like spilling into the sea it would have been devastating,” said National Trust Ranger, David Steel.
Following the accident, coastguard surveyor, Alan Thompson, detained the vessel at Blyth port. He said from the evidence they studied there was a serious failing of the ship’s safety management system. Also an unapproved electronic chart plotter was being used. “Which is basically a bit like your GPS for the car,” he said.
He added that from the time the Danio left Perth to the time it went to ground, there were only two positions on the chart.
He explained: “They basically said, ‘Well OK we’re sailing from Dundee and we’re going to Antwerp and we’ll draw a line and we’ll go the quickest way possible,’ …without really thinking.”
However, according to the BBC Inside Out programme which conducted the investigation, this doesn’t explain why no-one on board spotted the Farne Islands and a flashing lighthouse, as all large ships have an alarm system ensuring the look-out is awake and aware. Alan said: “If he’s fallen asleep it will alarm in the captain’s cabin and if the captain doesn’t acknowledge it, it will ring everywhere. The Danio did have a very basic bridge watch alarm, but it was switched off.”
Currently being repaired in Poland, the owner of the Danio, Frank Dahl, wanted to show programme makers his ship had a working watch alarm, and stresses it was company policy to use it. He goes on to blame the Captain, Mr Tadeusz Dudek and his First Mate – both of whom have since been dismissed – for the accident.
He said: “The technique is perfect, it’s the humans that make mistakes.”
The former captain is also featured on the programme, via telephone. Addressing the question of whether the First Mate had fallen asleep, in broken English, he says: “It is what he told in his statement and it looks like it is true.” He goes on to admit if the alarm system had been used correctly, the accident could have been avoided.
Although Captain Dudek seemed to confirm Frank Dahl’s version of events, maritime law says the owner of the ship is also liable for unsafe management and operation.
British authorities have still to decide whether to bring criminal charges.
Inside Out is on BBC1 tonight at 7.30pm.