British court fines Svitzer Marine over death of tugboat crew member

A British court has fined Svitzer Marine £2 million ($2.41 million) for unsafe working practices that led to the death of a crew member on a tugboat.

Svitzer Marine pleaded guilty to failing to safely operate a vessel and provide a safe system of work, resulting in the “avoidable tragedy” that resulted in the death of 62-year-old Ian Webb after falling into the water.

A Liverpool Crown Court heard on Monday how the tragic death sparked an investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) which identified a catalog of the company’s mistakes.

The incident happened on January 27, 2019 after the Svitzer Marine tugboat Millgarth Depart from the Tranmere North Jetty on the River Mersey in gale force.

Webb, the ship’s chief engineer, untied the mooring lines and attempted to return to the tugboat by stepping off the dock onto a narrow, wet fender. The tug broke away from the pier and rolled in the swell of the river. Webb eventually fell into the river.

He was eventually rescued by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service but later died as a result of being submerged in cold water.

The MCA’s investigation found that Svitzer Marine had not completed a risk assessment of the Tranmere jetties, although crews expressed concerns.

The MCA found that Svitzer Marine had not instructed crews on how to operate the rescue equipment, had not ensured that the rescue equipment was fitted correctly and had not ensured that safety drills were conducted.

A judge found Svitzer Marine £2million and ordered the company to pay £136,711 in costs, making a total of £2,136,711.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge called the accident a “preventable incident” and offered his condolences to the victim’s family.

“This operation was inherently unsafe under all conditions, but even more so under these conditions,” the judge said. “Previous events should have kept the defendant informed,” he added.

MCA lead investigator Mark Flavell, who led the case, said: “My thoughts are with the family of Mr Webb who may today find some comfort in the knowledge that justice is being served.

“This case highlights the consequences of complacency, failure to adequately assess risks that may be present in everyday tasks, and failure to conduct safety drills to ensure crews are proficient in the use of life-saving equipment,” Flavell added. “As with most incidents of this nature, it was a preventable tragedy and the MCA will take action to eradicate such errors.”

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