The Sinking Of The Trawler Gaul – Case Reopened
The Hull trawler Gaul sank in 1974, in the Barents Sea. All the 36 crew members on board lost their lives in this tragedy. The vessel was two years old, well found and apparently very seaworthy.
During the 32 years that have passed since its loss, theories and speculation about the fate of the Gaul abounded.
Following the discovery of the wreck in 1997, the victims’ families intensified their calls for an investigation into the loss of the vessel.
During 1998 and in 2002, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) carried out underwater surveys of the wreck and put together a significant amount of evidence in respect of the condition of the vessel and circumstances that let to its loss. The Re-opened Formal Investigation (RFI), chaired by the Wreck Commissioner: justice David Steel, was eventually held in January-February 2004, and its final report was published at the end of 2004.
The whole array of proceedings, spanning over three decades, cost the taxpayer around £10 mil in today’s money.
The RFI concluded that the probable cause for the loss of the Gaul was the ingression of seawater through the duff and offal chutes on the starboard side, which accumulated rapidly on the factory deck and caused the ship to capsize and sink. The conclusion implied that the fault lay with the crew for having left these chutes open to the sea, or with the crew and the ship owners for having failed to properly maintain these chutes’ closing arrangements.
However, soon after the publication of the RFI final report, one of the naval architects who had been, to some extent, involved in the RFI, noted the failings of the investigation and, in spite of intense pressures and threats, decided to raise the alarm about the unsoundness of its outcome.
The document published at http://the-trawler-gaul.blogspot.com criticises the findings of the investigation and the way in which it was conducted. It also draws attention to the fact that the final report contains a number of inaccuracies and incomplete factual evidence, the overall effect of which looks tailored to suit the conclusions of the investigation panel.
The paper demonstrates the existence of an obvious design defect in the construction and arrangement of the duff and offal chutes on the Gaul, and puts forward alternative scenarios for the loss of the Gaul, on this basis.
The design defect identified involves the possibility of the exposed edge of the non-return flap of the chutes to be pushed open by the force of the sea, allowing thus the seawater to flood the factory deck compartment. The author also explains how, if the design arrangement of this flap cover had been different, this unfortunate likelihood could have been prevented.
It is also important to notice that, should the RFI report have found that the loss of the Gaul had been due to a design defect, the victims’ families could have been entitled to claim substantial compensation.
This critical review of the Gaul case has been publicly brought to the attention of all the parties who had been in charge of the formal investigation, but all of them, without exception, contrived to evade the subject either through silence or prevarication. The establishment, it seems, is prepared to spare no effort or expense and to employ a whole range of stratagems in order to bar and discredit any views that would contradict the official version.
What is more, it has now emerged that the design fault in question is not, in fact, new evidence, and that it had been revealed to the government some time ago, that is, prior to the MAIB’s underwater survey in 2002.
In private, some of those who have a more intimate knowledge of the Gaul case also admit that the outcome of the formal inquiry was questionable (similar, perhaps, in some respects, to the one held into the loss of the Derbyshire), but they shrink from the mere idea of opening such a ‘can of worms’.
Aware that, if left unscrutinised, the case will undoubtedly repeat itself, and ineffective accident investigation will become the norm, we are now opening this can.