Leith Docks incident: Blocks holding research ship Petrel in place ‘could be key factor’ in ship incident that injured 35 people

The research ship that tipped over in a Leith dry dock injuring 35 people is likely to have become dislodged because of a problem with the blocks holding its hull in place, a senior marine industry official has told The Scotsman.

It came as the number of those hurt who were still being treated in hospital remained at seven on Sunday – five in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and two in Fife. Their conditions have not been disclosed.

A total of 23 people were treated in hospital, with a further 12 receiving treatment at the scene after the incident on Wednesday.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The industry source said the design and positioning of the blocks along the Petrel’s keel is expected to have been a key factor in the incident at Imperial Dock when the vessel tilted 45 degrees.

Petrel in Imperial Dock in Leith on Thursday. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty ImagesPetrel in Imperial Dock in Leith on Thursday. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images
Petrel in Imperial Dock in Leith on Thursday. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images

High winds could have been a contributory factor, but would not have been the primary factor, they said.

A wind speed of 38mph was recorded in Edinburgh at 8am, according to Met Office data, with the incident believed to have happened about 8:30am.

The industry source said ships were held in place in dry dock using blocks made of a combination of metal and wood, the former to provide weight and the latter so as not to damage the vessel’s hull. They were held in place by the weight of the vessel.

Further side blocks would usually be positioned on the sides of the hull, while other supports, or props, were sometimes added between the hull and the dock walls.

Last week, Dr Iraklis Lazakis, a senior lecturer in the department of naval architecture, ocean and marine engineering at Strathclyde University, told BBC Scotland that such incidents were very unusual and “it might have been unlikely just to be tipped over by the wind”.

The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation on Thursday, working with Police Scotland.

It is not clear how long Petrel had been in dry dock, but the marinetraffic.com tracking website recorded the ship as being berthed in Leith on October 19. The vessel had previously been on a 17-day voyage from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The 76m-long (250ft) ship is operated by Texas-based engineering firm Oceaneering on behalf of the US Navy, which bought it last September.

The US Navy said Petrel is a “multi-purpose maritime operations ship” that is “capable of supporting oceanographic surveys”.

It bought the ship, built in Romania in 2003, from the estate of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who had it adapted to search for historic shipwrecks.

Dales Marine, which operates the dry dock, which is part of the Forth Ports-owned Port of Leith, said investigations were ongoing and it was unable to comment on any speculative information from external parties.

An Oceaneering spokesperson said: “The safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate is our utmost priority. Company personnel were aboard at the time of the incident.

"Immediately upon learning of this incident, and consistent with our stringent safety policies and incident protocols, we initiated an internal investigation and are working closely with the appropriate authorities for a full investigation of the matter.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Officers are working with the Health and Safety Executive. Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances and at an early stage.”



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.