PORT operator Clydeport yesterday admitted health and safety failings over the sinking of the Flying Phantom tug, but insisted they had not caused the deaths of three of its crew.
The firm is expected to be sentenced next Monday over the incident, which happened while the tug was towing a vessel in the River Clyde opposite Clydebank College near the Erskine Bridge in thick fog in 2007.
The move comes ten months after Danish tug owner Svitzer Marine pled guilty and was fined £1.7 million for a series of health and safety breaches.
The crew who died were Stephen Humphreys, 33, Eric Blackley, 57, both from Gourock, and Robert Cameron, 65, from Renfrewshire. A fourth crewman, Brian Aitchison, 37, from Coldingham in the Borders, managed to swim free and cling to a buoy, and was rescued.
Thompsons Solicitors, acting for the families, has now called for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI).
Solicitor Andrew Henderson said: “It is very welcome Clydeport have admitted their guilt to health and safety breaches. Almost seven years on from the sinking, we have to make sure this never happens again.
“The best way to make sure safety on the river is improved is for the Crown Office to begin an FAI into the sinking. There can no more delay; thousands of men work on the Clyde, and the lessons learned from an FAI will help protect their safety.”
Clydeport had denied failing to identify adequately the risks associated with towing in a stretch of the Clyde harbour area during darkness and fog, and providing pilots with the relevant information and training.
It also denied failing to ensure an efficient weather forecast and monitoring system was in place.
The sinking occurred when the Phantom ran aground and was overtaken by the 77,000-tonne cargo ship Red Jasmine, which pulled the tug on its side.
Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the men’s union, Unite, said: “Clydeport’s admission of guilt demonstrates once again the urgent need for Scottish Government intervention to strengthen workplace health and safety. We need to radically change the FAI process – something the Scottish Government could have done by fast-tracking the FAI reform proposals made by Patricia Ferguson MSP but failed to.
“Corporate manslaughter legislation should be strengthened to ensure culpability for workplace fatalities is placed on individual directors within the negligent company.
“This will be of little comfort to the families devastated by the tragedy but given that workplace fatalities have increased in the last year, it’s clear we need more a robust approach to protect working people.”
A Clydeport spokesman said: “In pleading guilty to these three charges, it is important to underline the Crown accepts these issues were not the cause of the tragic events of December 2007.
“What these tragic events did do was bring these breaches to light.
“Since this accident, we have undertaken a comprehensive restructure of our working practices and systems.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have been clear in our commitment to bring forward legislation to reform FAIs in line with Lord Cullen’s recommendations. Our bill will be published in the spring.” She said Ms Ferguson’s recommendations were awaited.