TAK­ING A BEAR­ING

MEL BARTLETT A risk worth tak­ing?

Motorboat & Yachting - - Newtech -

‘At 11.35 on May 15 2016, the pas­sen­ger ves­sel Sur­prise suf­fered hull dam­age and started flood­ing when it grounded at Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly; all 48 pas­sen­gers were safely evac­u­ated to shore. The flood­ing was con­tained by the ves­sel’s own bilge pumps and it re­turned to har­bour un­der its own power.’

And at 00.01 on June 29 2017, the Marine Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Branch pub­lished its re­port into the in­ci­dent. It runs to 42 pages, plus 44 pages of an­nexes.

It iden­ti­fied three safety is­sues: that a pas­sage plan had not been pre­pared; that safety man­age­ment sys­tems did not in­clude suf­fi­cient guid­ance on nav­i­ga­tion or emer­gency pro­ce­dures; and that the ex­ams for lo­cal boat­men’s li­cences ‘lacked rigour.’

Not for the first time, it seems that the MAIB in­spec­tors and the boat­men scratch­ing a liv­ing at sea are liv­ing on dif­fer­ent plan­ets.

Sur­prise was a 14m open boat, owned and op­er­ated by a young man who had been work­ing on boats just like her for 12 of his 28 years, and whose pas­sen­gers had paid for a trip that would take them close to the wildlife for which the is­lands are fa­mous. They wanted photos of cud­dly, big-eyed pups, not dis­tant grey blobs. And in or­der to get them, Sur­prise had to ven­ture into the in­ter­tidal ar­eas, where ships don’t go, and depth in­for­ma­tion barely ex­ists.

Pas­sage plan­ning won’t help, un­less every rock is charted (this one wasn’t), and the seals tell the boat­men where they will be sun­ning them­selves in ad­vance.

Nor will check­lists. The MAIB in­spec­tor him­self com­mented that Sur­prise’s skip­per and the other boat­men who came to his res­cue han­dled the sit­u­a­tion well; but they did it by us­ing sea­man­ship and ini­tia­tive, not by hunt­ing through a li­brary of Stan­dard Op­er­at­ing Pro­ce­dures for every even­tu­al­ity!

In fair­ness to the MAIB, its rec­om­men­da­tions are quite gen­tly worded, but I won­der whether some­one, some­where, needs to ask whether hit­ting a rock is al­ways an un­ac­cept­able risk.

The rock it­self is ob­vi­ously best avoided, but can we re­ally say the same about the risk? Or are some risks worth tak­ing? We take risks every time we cross a road and peo­ple do all sorts of far more dan­ger­ous things be­cause it gives them plea­sure. Can we re­ally say that seal watch­ing is re­ally so dan­ger­ous that it shouldn’t be of­fered to or­di­nary tourists?

What­ever your thoughts on that, maybe Sur­prise’s sur­prise is best seen as a sim­ple re­minder that no chart can be re­lied on to show every sin­gle haz­ard! Let’s be care­ful out there!

Even some­thing as tame as pho­tograph­ing seals in­volves a de­gree of risk

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