A catalogue of errors led to a cargo ship running around on the Farne Islands earlier this year, sparking fears of an environmental disaster.
The BBC’s Inside Out programme, which aired on Monday, investigated what happened on March 16, the night huge container ship ‘Danio’ ran aground on the Farne Islands.
Built in 2001, the ship was sailing from Dundee to Antwerp six months ago with a cargo of timber.
When it ran aground, a lifeboat was scrambled to the scene from Seahouses and as the weather worsened and the drama unfolded, wildlife wardens on the Farnes feared the worst. Head warden David Steel said: “If it had started breaking up with fuel oil and the likes spilling into the sea…it would have been devastating.”
The 80m-long vessel spent 10 days stranded on rocks before it was eventually pulled off by a tugboat. But questions remained as to how it had been allowed to run aground in such a busy shipping lane.
The BBC investigation has now discovered a combination of human error and inadequate equipment were behind the incident, which put wildlife on the Farne Islands Nature Reserve in real danger.
Following the accident, coastguard surveyor Alan Thompson detained the vessel at Blyth, where he discovered a serious failing of the ship’s safety management system. He said: “He was using an unapproved electronic chart plotter, which is basically a bit like your GPS for the car.”
Alan says that, from the time the Danio left Perth to the time it went to ground, there were just two positions on the chart. “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’,” he explained.
But that still did not explain why the look out did not spot the Farne Islands approaching, nor a flashing lighthouse. All large ships have an alarm system which should ensure the look-out is awake and doing their job.
“The Danio did have a very basic bridge watch alarm, but it was switched off,” Alan said.
To find out more, Inside Out tracked the Danio’s owner Frank Dahl to Poland, and spoke to the ship’s Captain Tadeusz Dudek, who admitted the first mate had probably fallen asleep.
In broken English, Dudek said: “It is what he told in his statement and it looks like it is true.” He went on to admit that if the alarm system had been used correctly, the accident could have been avoided.
Dahl, who has subsequently fired captain Dudek and the first mate, said: “The technique is perfect, it’s the humans that make mistakes.”
However, 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.