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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Dredger skipper 'had been drinking'
The damaged Marchioness being raised from the River Thames
Victims' families have waited 11 years for the inquiry
The captain of the dredger involved in the Marchioness Thames riverboat tragedy has said he spent the afternoon drinking before starting work.

Douglas Henderson, 42, former skipper of the Bowbelle, told the public inquiry into the disaster that he had visited five pubs and consumed six pints of beer in five hours.

I had a lookout system in place which was adequate

Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson

He said he was not affected by the drinking and had slept before the vessel started its journey.

A few hours later 51 party-goers aboard the Marchioness pleasure boat died after it was in a collision with the Bowbelle at Southwark Bridge early on 20 August 1989.

In 1991 Mr Henderson was cleared of failing to keep a proper lookout after two juries failed to reach a verdict.

Strobe lighting

On Tuesday, the former skipper faced questions from Nigel Teare QC, counsel to the Attorney General at the formal investigation into the tragedy which was ordered earlier this year by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

"I had a lookout system in place which was adequate," Mr Henderson said.
The Bowbelle before the collision
The Bowbelle's skipper Douglas Henderson said the lookout was sufficient

He denied Mr Teare's suggestion that he ought to have seen the Marchioness before the collision.

The inquiry heard that the Hurlingham pleasureboat was close by at the time of the accident.

Mr Henderson said he had been talking to a chief engineer on the Bowbelle about the strobe lighting on the Hurlingham.

"I was unhappy about it," he said.

"In my opinion it might have interfered with the keeping of a proper lookout."

'Confident' of crew's abilities

He said his conversation had not distracted his attention but he did not know whether the lighting affected his seeing the Marchioness.

Mr Henderson said VHF radio sets used on some ships for communication between the captain and lookout were not used on the Bowbelle because he had been told they were unreliable.

He said he was happy to have a lower ranking able-bodied seaman on lookout in a forward position on the Bowbelle rather than an officer as he was confident of his crew's abilities.

He said he gave no specific instructions to his lookout team as he was sure they would react correctly.

Inquiry continues

The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau's inquiry into the sinking of the Marchioness found the immediate cause was the failure of the lookouts on both vessels.

An inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killings on the deaths of 51 party-goers on board the Marchioness.

But the families of the victims, most of whom were young, believe important facts on the causes of the disaster have been overlooked.

The public inquiry, which continues on Tuesday, is the result of their 11-year campaign to find out exactly what happened and will hear from survivors of the tragedy.

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