Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 11:17 UK

Tug's winch 'to blame for deaths'

The Flying Phantom after it was raised
The Flying Phantom was raised almost a month after sinking in December

A tug which sank while pulling another vessel with the loss of three lives capsized because a towing winch did not release quickly enough, a report said.

The Flying Phantom was trying to guide a freighter to a dock along the River Clyde when the accident happened in freezing fog in December last year.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch report also criticised the port, saying its risk assessment was "poor".

It called on port operator Clydeport to review its safety procedures.

The Flying Phantom went down without warning on 19 December.

The bodies of three crew - skipper Stephen Humphreys, 33, from Greenock, Eric Blackley, 57, from Gourock, and Robert Cameron, 65, from Houston - were later recovered.

Another crewman, Brian Aitchison, 37, from Coldingham, was rescued from the water after he managed to escape from the tug's wheelhouse.

Eric Blackley (left) and Robert Cameron
Eric Blackley (left) and Robert Cameron died in the tug

The investigation identified a number of factors which contributed to the accident.

It found that the emergency release system for the towing winch had operated, but not quickly enough to prevent the tug capsizing.

The Flying Phantom was girted, which means pulled over by the boat it was pulling, the MAIB said.

The report also highlighted a string of failings in procedures to ensure the tug operated safely in foggy weather.

It found that the routine the tug crew followed before towing or entering fog was "ineffective", with the watertight engine room door left open and the crew not being used in the most effective manner once in the fog.

There were also no defined procedures for the tug operators when assisting or towing in restricted visibility, it said.

The report also highlighted the lack of an accepted international industry standard for tug tow line emergency release systems, and asked risk management organisation Lloyd's Register to develop a standard to ensure tow lines can be released effectively in an emergency.

Stephen Humphreys
Skipper Stephen Humphreys was the last crewman recovered

The tug, owned by the Danish firm Svitzer, was based at Greenock.

It sank opposite Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire and was raised in a salvage operation in January.

The port was also criticised. The report said the few control measures that had been put in place after a previous similar serious accident in thick fog proved ineffective.

Major shortcomings in the port's safety management system were also overlooked because there was no "designated person" in charge, the report found.

The accident investigators made a number of recommendations, including that Clydeport appoint someone as "designated person" under the Port Marine Safety Code.

The report said that UK ports appeared not to have learnt lessons from accidents at other ports.

'Fatally flawed'

A Clydeport spokesman said: "We are studying the report carefully but feel it inappropriate to comment while other investigations continue."

Stuart McMillan, SNP MSP for the west of Scotland, said it was now time for Clydeport to take action to ensure a similar tragedy did not happen again.

He said: "Whilst the report states the emergency release system for the towing winch did not operate quickly enough and the poor visibility was an issue, it also points out that port risk assessment was poor.

"There were no operational limits for crew when towing in these conditions and crucially the report states that the port's quality management system was fatally flawed.

"This is an appalling state to have our leading Scottish port be in. Clydeport have failed to live up to their responsibilities."

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