Groups warned after Newcastle Triathlon training exercise breached safety laws

Port of Tyne Authority issued written warnings to three groups who breached safety laws whilst on a training exercise in the River Tyne

The River Tyne at Newcastle
The River Tyne at Newcastle

Three sports groups have been given written warnings after breaching safety laws and putting lives in danger on a mock rescue on the River Tyne which was branded shambolic.

The organisations were conducting a training exercise for the Newcastle Triathlon when swimmers and rescue craft strayed into shipping lanes causing vessels to take emergency evasive action.

The incident near North Shields Fish Quay led to the cancellation of the event in Newcastle.

Now the Port of Tyne Authority has issued a formal warning and advice to representatives from the three organisations but has stopped short of prosecuting anyone.

A statement issued by the Port of Tyne said: “The unauthorised exercise in June 2014 was held to support the planned VO2 Max Newcastle Triathlon and involved approximately 12 swimmers, three rescue boats and 12 kayaks.

“A number of incidents captured on CCTV gave cause for serious concern. Individuals were swimming in the River Tyne’s main shipping channel and 12 fishing boats and leisure craft had to take action to avoid colliding with the swimmers or the rescue craft during the exercise.

“The exercise took place near North Shields Fish Quay and involved a representative of the events company VO2 Max Racing Events, of North Shields, who were the organisers of the Newcastle Triathlon, and two representatives from voluntary organisations, Blyth Kayak Club and Red Seal, the maritime rescue youth training charity.

“The swimmers were volunteers and included potential entrants of the Newcastle Triathlon. The investigation has revealed that the swimmers were led to believe they were participating in an authorised exercise.”

The authority, which is responsible for the safety of the river, conducted an investigation with Northumbria Police.

They said the three organisations involved were jointly responsible for seeking advice and obtaining the necessary legal permission for the rescue exercise but none did so. As a result the Port of Tyne was not aware of the plans to hold the exercise.

The statement went on: “The CCTV coverage showed that the organisation of the exercise was shambolic with insufficient controls in place. This put the participants and other river users in danger and could have caused serious injury or loss of life.

“The inadvisable location in a narrow part of the river, in an area with dangerous currents, was extremely hazardous.

“The timing of the exercise also meant a large number of vessels were likely to pass very close by. Repeated breaches of safety byelaws were recorded on the CCTV coverage.

“The three organisations were due to provide the safety arrangements for the swim section of the Newcastle Triathlon due to take place on July 18th.

“The serious nature of the incidents recorded on the CCTV coverage led to the Port of Tyne requesting VO2 Max to meet further safety conditions in order to enable the Newcastle Triathlon to proceed. VO2 Max decided instead to change the location of the triathlon event.

“Port of Tyne decided that the test rescue exercise was well intentioned, and it would not be in the public interest to prosecute either the individual swimmers or representatives of the three organisations involved.

“Four individuals from the three organisations have been given written advice in relation to the safety breaches and to any future river activities they may be involved in.”

At the time of the cancellation of the event a spokesman for VO2 Max Racing Events said they were disappointed the Port of Tyne had rescinded permission to hold the event. It was switched to a venue in Ashington.


David Whetstone
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