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Report into tripper boat grounding criticises Council

A report into the grounding of the tripper boat Surprise last year has said that the Isles of Scilly Council's boating sub-committee did not have the 'marine experience' necessary to issue boating licenses.

Some 48 passengers were removed from the vessel after it hit the Western Rocks and began taking on water during a wildlife sightseeing trip on May 15 2016

Passengers from Surprise on board Pioneer (by Mike Harcum)

St Mary's Lifeboat and St Mary's Coastguard were called to the incident along with HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopters, with all passengers safely evacuated to nearby boats within 15 minutes.

An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has now concluded that the Surprise grounded because the skipper was 'unaware of an isolated, shallow rock when deliberately manoeuvring very close to exposed rocks so the passengers could observe basking seals'.

It found that the skipper had carried out insufficient passage planning and 'not adequately assessed the area's safety', although the emergency response on board Surprise was 'quick and effective'.

It also pointed out that given the complexity of the hazards in the shallow waters, it would 'not have been possible for the skipper to have known the exact location of every isolated rock at all states of tide'. The MAIB went on to criticise the Council's procedures for 'the examination and issue of boating licenses', saying the boating sub-committee 'did not have underpinning legislation, maritime experience or a suitably qualified advisor to maintain an effective overview of the system'.

It said that practical local knowledge tests at sea were carried out with no syllabus or written guidance for the examiner, and there were no written or oral examinations.

Cllr Steve Sims said: "As a previous chair of the boating sub-committee, I completely concur with the findings. The current system the Council has is totally inadequate and doesn't serve the islands' boatmen or their customers. We need to completely review the system from top to bottom and possibly have it adjudicated externally."

The report also recommended that the St Mary's Boatmen's Association introduce 'guidance to members on passage planning and conduct of navigation'.

Read the full MAIB report here.


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