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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 17:42 GMT
Bowbelle skipper keeps his licence
The sinking of the Marchioness claimed 51 lives
A skipper criticised for his involvement in the Marchioness riverboat tragedy has been found fit to continue holding a British master's certificate.

Douglas Henderson was captain of the dredger Bowbelle, which collided with the Marchioness in the accident which claimed 51 lives on the River Thames in central London.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said "despite the controversy surrounding Captain Henderson's past actions", it had to apply the same standards and approach as it did to all other seafarers holding competency certificates.

Captain Henderson was strongly criticised in the Marchioness public inquiry report which said he failed to set up a proper look-out on the night of the accident in 1989.

Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson
Captain Henderson did not send out a Mayday signal

The competency review had been ordered in March this year by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The MCA said on Monday that Captain Henderson, was still fit to continue holding a British certificate of competency as master, as he met all the service and medical fitness requirements for renewal of his certificate

The agency added that its review of Captain Henderson's competency had necessarily been confined to considering his current fitness and that the agency had "accepted that events which occurred in 1986 have no practical relevance on his current fitness".

On the afternoon of the accident Captain Henderson had drunk six pints of lager.

Although the alcohol would have cleared his bloodstream, the inquiry report "strongly deprecated" his conduct in consuming so much.

Certificates forged

At the public inquiry, Captain Henderson also admitted forging certificates and testimonials relating to his period of service on the vessel Gun during 1985 and 1986.

The MCA said it deplored the 1985-86 forgeries "because Captain Henderson relied on these documents when he was issued with a certificate of competency to be a master mariner in 1988".

The reasons for the MCA's decision were given to Marchioness families in London on Monday by the agency's chief executive Maurice Storey.

He told them the forgeries although not reflecting well on Captain Henderson, did not lead to the conclusion that he was not fit to be a master in 1989.

Case referred

He also said that no evidence had been produced to substantiate an allegation that Captain Henderson had recently been dismissed from a continental shipping company for drinking.

In his March 2001 report, Marchioness inquiry chairman Lord Justice Clarke held back from recommending any disciplinary action against Captain Henderson.

This was on the grounds of the amount of time that had elapsed and on human rights grounds.

But Mr Prescott said at the time he was referring the entire Clarke report to the director of public prosecutions "for him to consider whether action would be appropriate against Captain Henderson or any other party".

'Unlawfully killed'

The Crown Prosecution Service said on Monday the matter was still being considered and no decision was imminent.

Captain Henderson was tried in 1991 on a charge of failing to keep a proper look-out.

The jury failed to reach a verdict, as did another jury at a second trial, and Captain Henderson was formally acquitted.

In 1995, an inquest jury returned the verdict that the Marchioness dead were "unlawfully killed".

The following year the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to justify any further criminal proceedings.

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