Following the incident on a Wightlink car ferry on Friday night, which resulted in three passengers and one crew member being taken to hospital, John Burrows, Chief Operating Officer for Wightlink spoke this morning to Julian Clegg on Radio Solent.
Highlights of interview
As the audio wasn’t available straight away on iPlayer (it is now, until the 28th. Interview is about 40 mins in), OnTheWight shares below the contents of the interview. Highlights from Julian’s discussion with John Burrows include:
- Details of the investigations underway
- Explanation of how the upper car deck works
- How many ferries of that particular design (class) in use
- Their other ferries are a slightly different design
- Visual inspections to take place before every sailing
- Customers reassured of safety
- Engineers in the process of dismantling the deck for inspection
- Expect weeks or months for report from MAIB/MCA
- Wightlink apologise to customers affected
The sequence of events
The seven minute interview started with John explaining what had happened on Friday evening,
“Shortly after the ferry arrived in Fishbourne on Friday evening, we’d discharged the main car deck and as we were lowering the upper car deck, before an end of it started to lower, and then for some reason it dropped and fell onto the bottom car deck.
“At this moment in time, we’re not exactly sure what the cause of the incident was, but clearly there were nine cars on the section of the deck that dropped. Those people at the front end suffered the largest drop and as you say, unfortunately three passengers and one member of crew were taken to hospital.
“The really good news is they were discharged shortly afterwards, after checks to no major injuries and we’ve since spoken to the crew member who’s been back in, who’s not back working I should add, and he described himself as a little bit bashed and bruised but fine. So the good news is that everybody is well at the moment.”
How the hydraulic system worked
Julian went on to ask whether there’d ever been any question over the hydraulics or how the car decks work.
“It’s a hydraulic system. We have a hydraulic ram that pushes on a pivot, which stretches and tensions the cables, so the deck lifts on cables. Once it’s lifted up into position, there are locks that come out from the side of the deck and lock the deck in place.
“Clearly you have to take those locks off to allow the deck to be lowered, but certainly to my knowledge and I’ve been at Wightlink for seven years and I’ve spoken to people who’ve been at the company since the ferries have been in operation for over 30 years, we’ve never had an incident of this kind. So it’s an extremely rare incident and a shocking one for all concerned.”
Any history of similar incidents?
Julian asked whether the incident had happened on any other ferry of that design. John replied,
“I don’t believe there are any other ferries of that design. I think that the three vessels that we have are the only ships of that class. There is one other which we previously owned and has been sold about four years ago to another company and to my knowledge they’ve not had any failures either.
“But clearly, what we are doing is we’ve been in touch with the MAIB and the MCA, they’re onboard the vessel, they were onboard the vessel on Saturday and yesterday and they’re on the way there again this morning. They’re there with our engineers and MCA surveyors and we’re in touch with our naval architects who were the same company who designed the ships and we’ll be in touch with the manufacturer of the hydraulic equipment to make sure there are no further incidents of this kind. We’re confident there won’t be.”
Will upper car decks still be used?
Asked whether the upper car decks are out of action until the investigation has found the cause of the failure, John replied,
“The whole vessel is out of action. The St Helen has been taken out of service and is sitting alongside in Portsmouth and will not go back into service until we’re confident that the issues has been resolved.
“On the other vessels, are a slightly different design, but every vessel was inspected fully by our engineering teams and safety teams before they went into service and clearly we’ve also been liaising with the MAIB and the MCA and more importantly the company being satisfied that these decks are safe, those regulatory authorities are satisfied. They are independent, they have no axe to grind and if they felt that they were unsafe, they would’ve stopped us sailing these vessels.”
What safety checks have been carried out?
When pushed by Julian as to when the other vessels had been checked for safety, John replied,
“On the evening of the incident we were running two vessels at the time, we stopped the second vessel and we investigated and carried out a trial run and checked everything on that ship, so our customers were delayed for about half an hour as we went through that process and on Saturday morning, before the other two vessels went into service, our engineers and safety teams went onboard and went right through the whole system.”
Reassurance for passengers
Julian explained his reason for questioning was for the benefit of holiday-makers who might be concerned, John replied,
“I can reassure you not only did we check them fully before we put the vessels back into service we are checking them on a daily basis and every time before we operate the decks a visual inspection takes place.
“We’re very mindful our customers’ safety is our top priority and we’re not going to anything to compromise their safety.”
When will investigation complete?
Going on to ask what happens next and how long the investigation will take, John replied,
“The investigation will take as long as the MAIB require to go through the process. It won’t be a speedy process, I would be surprised if the report is completed within weeks, and it may be months.
“At the moment, the deck is still on place in the vessel and we will start to dismantle that deck for the MAIB so they can see what’s there, they can see the components and they will write a full report. That will be published in due course.”
The broken cable
Julian asked about the photo of the broken cable, as reported by OnTheWight on Sunday, John replied,
“I’ve seen that photograph. It is a photograph of the cable on the car deck of the St Helen, what I can’t confirm is if that cable caused the incident, or the damage to the cable is as a result of the incident. It’s too early for me to say and clearly that’s something that the authorities will be looking into very carefully and closely.”
Asked by the Radio Solent presenter what message he’d give to passengers, John said,
“My message is that they shouldn’t be concerned, what I would like to do is apologise to everybody who, firstly was involved in the incident because it was an unfortunate and I’m sure uncomfortable experience and also apologise to those customers who were delayed slightly by the knock-on effect.
“But I can reassure our customers that we, as a company, wouldn’t have the vessels in operation if we felt they weren’t safe, the authorities wouldn’t let us sail them and the final arbiter is the master of the vessel. If he thinks the vessel is unsafe, will not sail it. And I cannot, and will not, put commercial pressure on him to do so.
“Everybody is 100 percent confident that these vessels are safe so our passengers shouldn’t be concerned.”
Article edits: Five typos corrected. Added iPlayer audio link and adjusted the text accordingly