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Lord Dixon: My Lords, I was winding up. Finally, if there is a new or reopened formal inquiry, may I ask my noble friend whether it can be held in Liverpool? Liverpool was the "Derbyshire"'s registered port. Furthermore, a significant number of the crew came from Liverpool or the North East, so the dependants would be assisted if they could attend the inquiry without incurring the considerable expense that they incurred last time when the inquiry was held in London.
Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, I apologise to the House for speaking in two debates on the same day. I have never done it before and I do not suppose that I shall ever do it again. The "Derbyshire" was the largest UK-built ship ever to have been lost at sea. The trend now is to build ever-larger ships, even bigger than the "Derbyshire". Therefore, it is very important that we learn as much as we possibly can from that tragic loss. The sea is a very hard taskmaster, never to be underrated--and I have seen a few waves in my time. Nevertheless, we should be very hesitant in attributing such disasters to forces of nature, as did the preliminary inquiry in 1980. Mistakes can be made, especially when there are big changes in design, size or type of ship.
Subsequent to that preliminary inquiry, other evidence came to light. I refer, for example to the cracking of the sister ship, the "Tyne Bridge", in 1982, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, referred. Research was commissioned by the Department of Transport. In March 1986, the report was published, but it was an amended version of the original 1985 report. In May 1986, the Department of Transport refused to release the original version of the report. Then, in November 1986, another sister ship, the "Kowloon Bridge", ran into trouble and sank. There were clear indications of structural failure. A further investigation followed. A report was published in 1989, again concluding that the problem was that the ship had probably been overwhelmed by the forces of nature. Discussions continued and in 1990 an important paper was read to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects by the late Professor Bishop. However, in 1991 the Department of Transport again refused to reopen the investigation. Later in 1991 there was another refusal to place the full report of 1985 in the Library of either the House of Commons or this House. That report was made by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch.
So, before the wise recommendation made in 1996 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington--I am glad that he is to speak in this debate--that further investigations were needed, it was a rather sorry story of reluctance to face up to the real issues right from the start of the case and to make full public disclosures of all the views expressed in the various investigations and discussions. Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, mentioned, there have been delays and other problems in keeping the Derbyshire Family Association fully in the picture at all times. I am glad that that has improved lately.
I understand that the new report will be completed early in 1998. No doubt the Minister will tell us when it is likely to be published. May I ask the Minister to give us two assurances: first, that when the new report is published, it will be published in full, in its original form, without censorship of any kind and without any scaling down of any of the views expressed; secondly, that the Derbyshire Family Association will receive free copies of the report well in advance of publication, as they have requested, to minimise any further distress that may be caused to the families of those who were lost in this tragic accident? I look forward with great interest to the Minister's reply.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I rise to compliment my friend and colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, on initiating this debate on such a serious and sad question. I know that he followed the matter assiduously in another place. Over a number of years, I have raised the problem in your Lordships' House, mainly in Questions--and I have never received what I would call a definitive answer. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, has been mentioned. He was the previous Minister responsible for this. The last time that I asked the noble Viscount a Question on this, it was a complete waste of time. At the time I considered that what I was asking for was reasonable and in the interests of those who had lost family members. However, it was useless; there was no progress whatsoever.
We talk about tragedies, but I wonder whether many people realise the enormity of what happened. The "Derbyshire" was at least twice as big as the "Titanic". It may even have been bigger, but it disappeared without trace and with total loss of life. For the life of me, I cannot understand how it has been possible--it appears to be a case of vested interests in this country to prevent those who are most entitled to know, the relatives and dependants of the people who died in this ship, from learning what took place. One obstruction has been placed on top of another. As one jumps over one obstruction, another is erected.
I have a copy of the report prepared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. In a technical sense it is excellent. I do not wish to clash with my noble friend Lord Dixon or anyone else in the field of shipbuilding. I am an engineer and have never been a shipbuilder, but I know enough about steel construction to appreciate that the box compartment method of building is doomed
I do not have the figures with me, but these incidents occur in all of the oceans of the world. An annual count is made and the latest figure is 20. This type of ship has disappeared without trace in different parts of the world. No one seems to bother. It must be a cheap method of construction. All that appears to be expendable but cannot be quantified is the loss of life.
A second survey is to take place. If a proper survey had been done in the first place and the results had been made available to those who had lost their loved ones--that was all they asked for--these problems would have been avoided. They had an absolute entitlement to it but it was withheld. One can think of other similar incidents in this country. It appears that where there is loss of life at the lower levels of society no one bothers too much. Another example was the "Piper Alpha" disaster, in which 100-odd men are still entombed. The relatives did not receive justice. There was no attempt to deal with that situation. The relatives and survivors wanted certain action taken, but it was too expensive. That was not said but it was the only conclusion that could be drawn from that situation.
I hope that when the second survey is completed a final answer will be provided from a completely independent point of view, not the point of view of someone who sits on a commission, finds in one way, leaves and is then used by someone else and gives a verdict having abdicated his original responsibility. This is not new; it has happened in other industries. I recall one situation in which Heriot-Watt University in Scotland was commissioned to carry out another task but suddenly withdrew because of pressure exerted by industrialists who financed the university.
I do not know when the second survey will be completed but the sooner the better. If legal assistance is required and the matter goes to court, I hope that the dependants who are left, who have had to beg or borrow to be represented, will have the same access to legal aid as others of whom we read in the press. For example, we regularly read of people who have gone off with other people's money in a grandiose fashion and ended up obtaining legal aid, on one occasion to the tune of £15 million. In another case a German who lived in Italy and who had never visited this country obtained half a million pounds a few months ago in order to sue a Japanese company because that company's business headquarters were in London. In another case an Iranian gentleman who was alleged to have milked the funds of the Arab League, or a similar body, of a substantial amount of money--about £30 million--had his legal costs funded by the British taxpayer. I hope that if the dependants of those who died in this terrible disaster require representation, at whatever level, that will be looked upon sympathetically. If it is not, there is something wrong with justice in this country.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I do not want to say anything about the chapter of events that took place before I became involved in assessing what should be done thereafter, save to say--I have said it before--that the Derbyshire Family Association deserves great credit for its persistence in trying to get the authorities to find out what was the cause of the loss of the "Derbyshire" or at least to see what lessons could be learnt to the benefit of shipping generally from such evidence as could be gathered about that.
If it is any consolation to the families, if there had been attempts to take the matter further at a very much earlier stage, the technology which is now available would not have been available, and I doubt whether they could have obtained a tithe of the evidence which has now been uncovered. Furthermore, human nature and, above all, ministerial human nature, being what it is, had they had a series of inquiries as each new piece of evidence arose, there would have been considerable resistance to going into the matter further.
We now have the position that an expedition has worked day and night for 57 days over the wreck. Photographs have been taken of every part of it. I am told that there are now 140,000 photographs, all of which have to be matched together to find out from where they have come. Some of them have to be looked at with much greater care to see what lessons can be learnt.
There is a mass of factual evidence. There are two stages to this. There is the factual evidence which anyone can see, or will be able to see in due course; and there is the interpretation of that evidence. I hope that no one in their enthusiasm for any particular cause will suggest that those who worked professionally on this survey have in any way suppressed anything. It is all there. There will be legitimate room, no doubt, for differences of opinion as to what inferences, what conclusions, should be drawn; but that is a different matter.
On that, if the "Derbyshire" families have a different view, no doubt they will put it forward. They will no doubt be advised whether there are grounds for different views. The function of the people who have been involved in this--in particular, Robin Williams, who has been in charge from the technical point of view--is to lay the facts before the Secretary of State, and to state their conclusions. Those conclusions will be open to debate, if anyone wants to, but I hope that there will be no challenge to the facts.
Let me say a word about the approach to my assessment. We had to rate probabilities in some sort of order, because it is no good spending £2 million, which is what we are talking about, on trying to find something that virtually could not have happened. Equally, we are not justified in spending such a sum on looking for evidence of a cause if, in the nature of things, the evidence could not be there.
I shall give an example: fire. Fire would have left carbon deposits which would have been washed away ages ago. We took various hypothetical causes and gave them probability ratings on the basis of such information as we had, and also evidential ratings--the chances of our being able to find any evidence. We added the two scores together which gave us a league table.
In that league table it is not correct to say, as I have heard it said in the Chamber today, that hatch covers were the front runners. There were joint front runners--fore end flooding is a better way of putting the matter, because the water can enter in a number of ways--fore end flooding and Frame 65. There were other subsidiary issues with lesser scores, if one may put it that way.
It is not true to say that the assessors favoured hatch covers rather than Frame 65. All three of us approached the matter on the basis that we did not know what the answer was. We wanted to decide what we were justified in spending the money on in the search for truth.
There have been references to Professor Faulkner. It is true that from an early stage in our deliberations he was saying to me, "Look, you really ought to consider this question of the strength of hatch covers", because Lloyd's Register, if I remember rightly, said that in the light of current knowledge the strength of those hatch covers was inadequate. It does not follow that they were the cause of the loss in any way. But, as a result, the question of the strength of the hatch covers is now being examined. I hasten to say that the "Derbyshire" was constructed entirely in accordance with the standards of the day. It is a question of the information that has come to light since.
Professor Faulkner also stated that he believed that inadequate attention had been paid to special forms of sea that can occur in a typhoon. We paid attention to that, but it did not affect our scaling of the probabilities. It merely meant that fore end flooding and hatch covers had to be examined seriously, just as Frame 65 had to be examined seriously. There was evidence to support both. We heard about the bridge class vessels in relation to Frame 65. We must also take account of the fact that the ITF expedition found the bow virtually intact. I am no expert or naval architect, but it raises the issue of whether that area of the vessel was flooded before she began to sink. One would have expected to find--indeed, the first survey did find--that watertight parts of the vessel exploded as it sank causing considerable damage. There appears to have been no damage to the bow. That does not mean to say that that was the position. It merely raises the probability to a level which comes within a measurable distance of Frame 65.
We now have the facts. They must be incorporated in a report in order to make sense of them. I do not know whether those working on the report have formed any conclusions, but they must do so and then report to the Secretary of State. No doubt at that stage everyone concerned will be able to form a view on whether they accept the report or undertake their own investigations before deciding. But that will be the time to make a decision and I deplore any attempt to rush those who are assembling and analysing the evidence. We can never
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, for introducing this important Question. I speak in this short but important debate as a disinterested observer, but one with an engineering background. I have no special knowledge of the "Derbyshire", except what I have gleaned from the newspapers and been able to assess from those reports from my knowledge and experience of engineering history and practice.
Until I had heard the explanations of previous speakers, my understanding of the situation was as follows. First, the MV "Derbyshire" was one of a series of large bulk carriers built to the same or similar design at the frontiers of knowledge at the time, or certainly close to those frontiers. Secondly, she was lost without warning on a routine passage, admittedly during a period of heavy weather, but not, so far as we can tell, freak conditions. Thirdly, she was relatively new.
Here is where my knowledge of engineering history comes in. One example that I can give is the experience of the early jet engined, aluminium bodied aircraft which suffered metal fatigue as a result of high cyclical stresses. That was a new phenomenon and the experience of the failure resulted in much experimental and research work which pushed back the frontiers of knowledge and resulted in the safe, fast, economical air travel on which we have come to rely.
There is another example which may be a little closer to the case of the "Derbyshire". That is the catastrophic failure of liberty ships sailing in cold waters in the early part of the last war. The failures in those cases were found to be brittle fracture associated with the welded hull structures in conjunction with cold environments. Again, research and development led to shipyards being able to weld hull structures in such a way as to provide safe construction of shipping since the war. I have given your Lordships those two examples to suggest that the situation of the MV "Derbyshire" may have been that it was so close to the frontiers of knowledge that it pushed beyond what was known at the time.
I have gathered that it was argued by the ship designers and constructors that the "Derbyshire" was just a development of current normal practice and that the insurers put the loss down to an act of God. I may have a suspicious mind, but does that mean that the insurers were not liable to pay out? Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what the insurers' situation would be if the loss of the "Derbyshire" was due to either poor design or poor workmanship?
There is also the situation of the people lost at sea as a result of the "Derbyshire" loss. I am sure that we all grieve for their families. I applaud the campaign that the families have waged to find the truth. But there are other
There is also another avenue to explore. If it is not the insurers' responsibility to determine the facts of the case, either as a duty to their shareholders--or, is it "partners", in the Lloyd's sense?--or as a duty of care to the seafarers involved, is it the duty of the shipowner, the national government or the International Maritime Organisation to determine the facts? Who determines the facts in such cases? Here I believe that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the various seafarers' unions that funded the original search for the wreck of the "Derbyshire", which was amazingly successful.
I hope that the Government can tell us today if they have received the second survey report--or, indeed, when they expect to receive it--and that they can advise us of what action they propose to take, particularly to ensure that the lessons are learned effectively and, most importantly, to protect the lives of seafarers in the future.
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, I confess that I do not know what caused the tragic loss of the MV "Derbyshire". I wholly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, that the assessors must be given the time and the resources to do the job which they have accepted to do properly.
However, as has already been said, I do know that it is 17 years since the ship went down with 42 seamen and two wives. I also know that their loss has caused deep and continuing grief to their families, who are desperately anxious to know what happened. I also know that it was the persistence of those families, sustained by the mutual support that they built in the Derbyshire Family Association and the practical help that they received from the maritime unions, that has led, at last--in the face of apathy at best and resistance at worst from government departments--to the present survey which at least holds out some hope of answering their question.
I do not propose to speculate on what form that answer will take. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon, to whom we are indebted for the debate, asked what lessons we could draw from the events which led up to the present survey. When the MV "Derbyshire" went down in September 1980, the dependants concerned had to get on with life and cope with their grieving as best they could. They tried to pressure the then Government to mount an inquiry. In May 1981, the Minister for Trade announced that a formal investigation was not warranted.
As has been said, this was not some clapped out rust bucket. As the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said, this was the biggest British merchant ship ever lost--170,000 deadweight tonnes. It had been built in the UK four years previously. It was double-skinned and well maintained. It was owned in the UK by a reputable line. It was registered in the UK. It was classed with Lloyd's register. It was crewed by competent UK seafarers. However, its loss did not even warrant a formal investigation.
There the matter would have rested had it not been for the stubborn determination of the families. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, has said tonight, and as he noted in his 1995 assessment,
As we have heard, it took the break-up of another sister ship, "The Kowloon Bridge", off Ireland in 1986 to jolt the Government into launching a formal investigation in October 1987. In spite of the key part played by the dependants in keeping the issue alive--because without them the issue would have been dead in the water--they were not even included in the list of interested parties. It was only after the intervention of the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers--in which I declare an interest as a trustee--that they were included. But even then they were refused assistance to obtain legal representation, which they obtained only because the maritime unions paid for it. NUMAST paid over a quarter of a million pounds. In the event the conclusions were unconvincing.
There the matter would have rested had not the trade unions again taken the initiative, as we have been reminded tonight. In March 1994 the International Transport Workers Federation agreed to provide the £320,000 needed to fund a search for the wreckage. The results of that search persuaded, or rather shamed, the Government into inviting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, to assess what further work should be undertaken. Your Lordships have, on previous occasions, paid tribute to the noble and learned Lord's report. However, as the noble and learned Lord has generously acknowledged, the real tribute should be paid to the families of those on the "Derbyshire" for refusing over all those years to take no for an answer.
What conclusion the experts will reach from their analysis of the 140,000 photographs and hundreds of hours of videos remains to be seen. However, if the issue is finally to be laid to rest, it will require--as has been said in this debate--more than an assessment by the three government experts. I am not suggesting for a
The first question I wish to echo--it has been put already to the Minister--is whether the Government will make the evidence available to bodies which have shown a valid interest, including the Derbyshire Family Association and the maritime unions, and whether they will financially assist the DFA and the unions to hire competent advisers to examine the evidence, and advise them on their judgment.
Beyond that, this case history demonstrates the need to establish once and for all the right of the dependants and their representative unions to play a full part in future inquiries of this kind, and to make their contribution to reaching the conclusions which can bear on their rights to compensation as well as enabling them to come to terms with the tragedy of bereavement.
When, during the inquest into the "Marchioness" disaster, it was ruled that legal aid was not available, the Lord Chancellor himself arranged for public funding of the families' legal representation. Similarly, the costs incurred by dependants in the "Piper Alpha" inquiry, to which my noble friend Lord Dean referred, were refunded. As it was put in the report of the "Piper Alpha" inquiry:
My second and concluding question to the Minister is whether she accepts that judicial recommendation, and whether she will ensure that legal assistance is provided automatically in future cases of this kind to dependants and their organisations.
From my point of view, there are three stories which run through the 17-year history of events since the sinking of the "Derbyshire" in September 1980. The first is the story of the people involved: the 42 crew members and two wives who perished in the wreck, their surviving relatives in the DFA, the naval architects and other maritime experts who have taken up their cause, and the MPs and Members of your Lordships' House who have kept this issue alive in Parliament, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, both with the debate today and in former times when he was the honourable Member for Jarrow in another place.
It is beyond question that the Derbyshire Family Association and its supporters feel that they have received less than their due in the long years since the loss of the crew of the "Derbyshire". The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, has referred to the very different treatment in terms of funding which they have received compared with other family members of persons injured in other types of disaster. Their expert advisers and supporters have not been called upon to give evidence. They have not been able to pursue any claim against the shipbuilder or the shipowner. They have on too many occasions learned important news from the press rather than directly from the Department of Transport. Their confidence in government has been damaged by their experiences.
Like others, I wish to ask the Government whether they will give the DFA a sight of the report of the second survey of the wreck site before it is published, and whether they will assist the DFA with the circulation of the technical report to its members.
Secondly, there is the story of the ships themselves--six giants of the Bridge class, built by Swan Hunter, which was then in public ownership, during the 1970s. Of the six, two foundered, the "Derbyshire" in 1980, when it was only four years old, and the "Kowloon Bridge" in 1986. The third, the "Tyne Bridge" returned to port when its master heard cracking noises coming from somewhere forward of the superstructure during bad weather. Serious cracking and misalignment in the area of No. 65 bulkhead were discovered, together with the evidence of an earlier repair. The Italian classification society concerned recommended the introduction of continuous plating through No. 65 bulkhead and a greater thickness of deck plating in that area. In effect, a partial redesign of a particular part of the ship was demanded and undertaken as a condition of further insurance.
In 1982, two further members of the class--the "Alexander Glen" and the "Cast Kittiwake"--were inspected and modified in the same way as the "Tyne Bridge". In effect, all three of those ships, it is suggested, were returned to something nearer the original design of the vessels which was registered with Lloyd's.
One of the mysteries surrounding the sinking of the "Derbyshire" and the subsequent decisions following the preliminary inquiry in 1980 and the formal inquiry in 1986 is whether the modified design was registered at Lloyd's and, if so, where it is now.
In the light of all this experience with faults in the sister ships, it seems extraordinary that it was not until the exploratory expedition funded by the ITWF actually located part of the wreck in 1994 that the possibility that the sinking of the "Derbyshire" was caused by faults in design was given any public credence by the Government or by inspectors at the two inquiries.
Another aspect of the story has been the fact that marine inspectors and others with expertise were not called to give evidence at the inquiries. As a result, the previous Government have been accused, however unfairly, of a cover-up or of a bias against the surviving relatives.
Obviously, we cannot today anticipate the result of the recent survey or of any conclusions which may flow from it. But a number of questions can legitimately be asked and answered today, I hope. First, are the Government likely to convene another inquiry or to reopen the previous inquiry following consideration of the report? If so, will the widest possible trawl be made for expert evidence and will the DFA receive any support--financial support, that is--for their representation at such an inquiry? Can the Government confirm that Her Majesty's Government stand by their decision to bear responsibility for any claims against the shipbuilders that might arise, as was stated at the time of the privatisation of Swan Hunter? Can the Minister reassure those who are waiting to learn how this Government will handle the case that they will approach it in a spirit of openness, fairness and generosity?
The last theme that has run through these 17 years is that of safety at sea. Of course, we have in this House in the person of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, an acknowledged expert in the field and one who has made a unique contribution to policy-making on these issues. I am very much indebted to him for the work that he does in informing us all of progress, however partial, towards improving safety at sea.
I shall not repeat his arguments or the many statements on the need to improve the safety of ships and of their crews which have been made in connection with the loss of the "Derbyshire". Suffice it to say that this case raises a number of very important issues to which speakers have referred already and, in particular, the degree to which lessons learnt from accidents at sea are applied to ship design. It is striking, to me at any rate, that faults in the design or performance of aircraft--metal fatigue, for example--are taken on board not just by the manufacturer of that particular aircraft but by all manufacturers. The "Derbyshire" was one of a rather experimental class of very large cargo vessels yet, as I understand it, it was not put through the same kind of rigorous trials as modern or experimental aircraft have to undertake. Finally, for a number of reasons, there is no ship certification process in existence which has the worldwide force of the aircraft certification process.
The safety record of bulk carriers is sufficiently poor and the number of lives lost in accidents involving them sufficiently great, even in the past few years, to make it a matter of urgent concern that everything possible should be done to improve the safety of merchant vessels and particularly bulk carriers and their crews.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, on asking this Question, for he raised a matter of wide-scale and important public interest. That reflects his long-standing concern and interest in this matter, going back to his responsibilities for his constituents when he was a Member of the other place and relying on his knowledge and first-hand experience of the shipbuilding industry.
As we are now late in the evening I do not want to be repetitious and go over ground already covered, particularly in relation to the chronology of this matter, which was spelt out in some detail by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, and my noble friend Lord Caldecote. That was supplemented by the extremely valuable contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, talking to us about the work that he has done on the inquiry into this matter.
As has already been mentioned this evening, when we were in government we instigated the second survey following the recommendations which were made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. Reference has also been made to the role played by the Derbyshire Family Association in taking forward this matter; in trying to establish what actually took place in this sad and tragic accident on the high seas.
It is understandable that the Family Association wished to have a close involvement with the second inquiry. But, as my noble friend Lord Goschen said on behalf of the government at that time and as was reiterated by my then honourable friend Mr. Stephen Norris in the other place, the government were concerned about the integrity of the investigation. While they understood the Family Association's disappointment at not having greater control and/or involvement in the inquiry, they felt strongly--I believe rightly--that it must be the prime interest of all the parties involved that the expedition and any subsequent assessment and analysis of what was discovered should not be impugned for partiality, or on the basis of procedural irregularity or by virtue of some possible breach of the rules of natural justice.
A number of important points have already been raised this evening. Again, I do not want to delay your Lordships by repeating them; I merely record that I, as much as anybody else in the Chamber this evening, am anxious to hear the replies that the noble Baroness, for the Government, may be able to give us later. However, it is important that we look at this matter from the position of where we are now. As has already been said, the story is already a long one. While it is helpful in clarifying and elucidating the position, we must not become bogged down in what is essentially history.
In particular, the questions I should like to ask the noble Baroness are, first, whether she knows when the report of the inquiry will be published. Secondly, is the analysis of the findings of that inquiry to be published simultaneously? If not, can she say when it will be published? Thirdly--a point raised by a number of other speakers--what opportunity, if any, will be given to those who wish to comment or take issue either with the findings or with the conclusions reached? What help, if any, will be provided to assist those families who, in one way or another, are so closely associated with the tragedy that occurred?
I echo most strongly the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, when he emphasised that this matter must not be rushed. After all, as he said, we have only one opportunity to carry out this inquiry and this analysis, and it is important that we achieve the right answer--right both in terms of being factually correct and right in terms of justice. But, equally, in seeking the truth, we must not be delayed simply gratuitously.
When this chapter has been concluded it is important that, as far as we can, we know what happened in the case of this disaster. We must also know, if we possibly can, why those things actually happened. Certainly consequences flow from that. What are the consequences of what occurred both in legal and other terms? Finally--and this is perhaps the most important aspect of the whole story--what lessons should be learnt and what steps should be taken by governments and by others involved in the industry to ensure that such an accident does not happen again?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, in replying to this short but valuable debate, I am conscious that I am joining others who have a long-standing and detailed interest in the subject. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dixon for the way in which he introduced the debate and to other noble Lords for their contributions.
In replying, I am aware that we are debating the issue on the same day as the report of the international inquiry into the 1994 "Estonia" disaster is published. The timing properly serves as a reminder to the House that the sea can be a cruel and dangerous place. At the beginning of my reply I should like to extend my condolences to the families who were bereaved by the deaths of the 42 crew members and the two wives who were on board the "Derbyshire".
However, before doing so, I should like to pay tribute to the efforts of the Derbyshire Family Association, which has succeeded in keeping the tragedy in the public eye for all those long years and for ensuring, as my noble friend pointed out, that the circumstances of the ship's loss were fully investigated. It was through the association's efforts that the International Transport Federation funded an expedition which successfully located the wreck in 1994. That was a remarkable achievement, considering the slim chances of success. In his independent assessment of the matter in 1995, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, also praised the work of the association.
His report recommended that a second extended and last examination of the wreck be undertaken. He concluded that the likely cost would be fully justified in the light of the potential benefits to ship safety. That conclusion was accepted by the previous Administration and in June 1996 they announced that the return expedition would take place in two phases: the preliminary survey to be followed by the main survey. The costs of the expedition were shared with the European Commission. Three naval architects, who are also leading experts in the analysis of ship wreckage, were commissioned to act as assessors. Two were appointed by the Government and one by the European Commission. I have to say at this point that I know that the Derbyshire Family Association wanted to be part of that expedition. This Government wish that they had been able to be so.
However, the previous Administration decided that only the independent assessors and their supporting team should take part. All the interested parties were, however, subsequently invited to a colloquium in March 1996 and to other briefings to discuss the planning and execution of the expedition and the appointment of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This American research organisation already had extensive experience of examining wrecks at ocean depth.
An important aspect in the planning, execution and analysis of the data was, and continues to be, that all possible loss scenarios are thoroughly researched without prejudice. I believe that is the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, made. Where possible, the evidence collected will be used to support or refute each scenario as a possible cause of the sinking.
Phase One, the preliminary survey, took place in July 1996 and succeeded in locating, and positively identifying, the stern of the vessel, tested the technical feasibility of the project, and confirmed the findings of the ITF survey.
I have to say to the House that the assessor's report has taken longer to compile than was originally envisaged. I believe that several noble Lords who contributed to the debate remarked how important it is that we get the process right. We need to ensure that the distress and uncertainty caused over the years has been resolved. The survey was remarkably successful in providing useful images of the wreck, which have yielded a great deal of information that has had to be analysed. The emphasis throughout this project has been on the thorough investigation of all possible loss scenarios and to obtain as much information as possible from the available evidence.
My noble friend Lord Dixon asked about the retrieval of wreckage. The assessors based their survey on photographs of the wreckage. There was, and is, no proven method of cutting and recovering from the depth involved. The cutting equipment designed for the expedition failed, but alternative means were found to validate the detailed photographs. My noble friend also raised the issue of the resignation of Professor Faulkner, one of the assessors. He submitted his resignation for personal reasons. However, as was made clear from the correspondence that my noble friend referred to, he was well aware of our concerns about certain of his public statements in this area.
As regards timing--that was an issue raised by several noble Lords tonight--I am pleased to be able to report to the House that the assessors have nearly completed their work. It remains for them to draw their conclusions and prepare their report. In answer to the specific question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and others, the report is expected to be published early in the New Year. It will be published in full and without censorship. I say that in response to a direct question that was asked. The Government have given an assurance--and this is another issue on which a specific assurance was asked for by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and others--that the Derbyshire Family Association and other interested parties will be given advance copies of the report before it is published. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, the Derbyshire Family Association will be assisted with the distribution of the report as well. Following the publication of the report, the Government will then make arrangements for each of the interested parties to be granted access to the data.
Owing to the almost unique status of some of the equipment needed to view the photographic images, access to the data can only be given on the premises of the department. It is anticipated that the interested parties will wish to undertake their own analyses and to compare these with the findings of the assessors. The Government will facilitate these analyses by providing help in the retrieval and presentation of the images. However, I have to say that it will not be possible to provide funds to pay for technical analysis of the
The issue as to whether it was necessary to have an independent analysis of the data funded by the Government was raised. I think it would be prudent to wait until we have had the opportunity to consider what the assessors have to say. It would not be helpful to dismiss their report in advance before it has been submitted. This is an issue that we wish to approach in an open way and, as I have said, a full account will be made available and there will be no question of censorship.
During the time the interested parties are expected to undertake their own analysis the Government will be considering the report of the assessors in deciding whether or not it would be right to reopen the formal investigation into the loss of the "Derbyshire". The report of the previous formal investigation was published in 1989 and concluded, as many of your Lordships may have noted, that the ship was probably overwhelmed by the forces of nature in a typhoon.
Several speakers who have spoken tonight have recorded the deep-seated concerns there were at that conclusion. The Government will decide whether to reopen the formal investigation on the basis of whether new and important evidence has been found which substantially adds to or challenges the findings of the original investigation.
I hope that noble Lords will understand that I cannot prejudge the decision of the Government about reopening the formal investigation prior to the publication of the assessors' report. However, my noble friend Lord Dixon asked whether, if that investigation were to be reopened, we would consider that inquiry taking place in Liverpool. I can give him the assurance that in the event of a formal investigation being reopened we would consider that suggestion.
My noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick has raised the issue of the availability of legal aid in the event of the formal inquiry being reopened. Legal aid is only available under the legal aid rules in criminal and limited civil cases. The point was raised regarding the view of the inspector following the precedent referred to by my noble friend Lord Murray, and the views of Lord Cullen following the "Piper Alpha" disaster. It is up to the individual inspector to make his own decision, but in doing so he would no doubt have regard to the views of Lord Cullen as expressed following the "Piper Alpha" tragedy and its investigation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about the action we are taking to ensure safety at sea generally; and my noble friend Lord Monkswell asked who was responsible for safety. Ultimately the ship's flag's state is responsible but all the involved parties--owners, crews, insurers, cargo owners, builders, repairers and classification societies--must play their part in imposing and maintaining safety standards. We shall be working through the International Maritime Organisation to ensure that new ships are designed and built to the highest safety standards.
What is already clear from the survey is that it has set a new standard in the retrieval of information from sunken wrecks for accident investigation purposes. It has returned valuable information which it is important that we use properly to investigate what actually happened to the "Derbyshire" and also to contribute to wider efforts to improve safety at sea.
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