Ireland's marine accident investigator branded 'not fit for purpose'

Ireland's marine accident investigator branded 'not fit for purpose'

Naval personnel at the funerals of unidentified remains after the Betelgeuse disaster claimed 50 lives at Whiddy Island, Co Cork, 42 years ago this Friday. A stinging new report raises concerns about Ireland's Marine Casualty Investigation Board. Picture: Michael Minihane

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has been blasted as "not fit for purpose" in a scathing new report issued to the Oireachtas.

The MCIB has been under scrutiny ever since a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that the composition of the board was not adhering to EU regulations against a potential conflict of interest. 

Now members of the Oireachtas business committee, and the chairs of some other committees, have been sent Marine Hazard Limited's Report into The Operation and Effectiveness of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, carried out by Captain Neil Forde of Marine Hazard Limited, someone who has previously worked in the Marine Survey Office of the Department of Transport. 

Capt Forde has himself conducted investigations for the MCIB but in the report claimed the body was not investigating certain matters for which it had a statutory duty, such as serious or fatal accidents where seafarers have fallen into the water while boarding or leaving vessels moored alongside.

It also raises concerns about the processes around some other MCIB investigations, and Capt Forde also said the board needed to be more involved in ensuring proper regulation of leisure craft, including the need for a minimum standard of training. 

The new expert report came about after maritime lawyer Michael Kingston — pictured in 2019 casting a floral tribute into Bantry Bay to honour his father and the other victims of the Betelgeuse explosion — was approached by other relatives with their concerns.  	Picture: Dan Linehan
The new expert report came about after maritime lawyer Michael Kingston — pictured in 2019 casting a floral tribute into Bantry Bay to honour his father and the other victims of the Betelgeuse explosion — was approached by other relatives with their concerns.  Picture: Dan Linehan

The report has emerged in the same week as the latest anniversary of the Whiddy Island disaster and Capt Forde said the report came about after some people contacted maritime lawyer Michael Kingston — who lost his father in the disaster and who issued the report to the members of the Oireachtas — with their concerns. In an accompanying letter, Mr Kingston criticised moves by Eamon Ryan, the transport minister, to seek a waiver to fast-track legislation which relates to the MCIB at committee stage.

A spokesperson for the department confirmed that, in accordance with Dáil standing orders, a request was issued on December 18, 2020, to the business committee seeking a waiver of the requirement for pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of a proposed Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill. 

"The reason for this request relates to the urgent need to progress the bill as quickly as possible to amend the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, which underpins the MCIB, and provide a legal basis for the appointment of new members to the MCIB to fill current vacancies on the board," the spokesperson said. 

"Consideration of the request is a matter for the business committee and their response is awaited."

Last summer, Mr Ryan — and the departmental spokesperson this week — said last year's CJEU judgment contains no finding that the MCIB failed to act impartially.

The MCIB did not respond to the publication of the report. 

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