A BBC documentary tonight investigates what happened the night a huge container ship ran aground on the Farne Islands, sparking fears of an environmental disaster earlier this year.
Inside Out (North East & Cumbria) tracks down the owner of the Danio cargo ship to Poland, speaks exclusively to its captain and exposes a catalogue of errors which led the vessel to plough – at full steam – into the Farnes off the north Northumberland coast.
Built in 2001, the ship was sailing from Perth to Antwerp six months ago with a cargo of timber.
When it ran aground, a lifeboat was scrambled to the scene from Seahouses and as the weather worsened and the drama unfolded, wildlife wardens on the Farnes feared the worst.
National Trust Ranger, David Steel, said: “To have a boat like that run aground and obviously if it had started breaking up with fuel oil and the likes spilling into the sea...it would have been devastating.”
Following the accident, coastguard surveyor, Alan Thompson, detained the vessel at Blyth port. He told Inside Out that – from the evidence they looked at – there was a serious failing of the ship’s safety management system.
He said: “He was using an unapproved electronic chart plotter, which is basically a bit like your GPS for the car.”
Alan said that, from the time the Danio left Perth to the time it went to ground, there were two positions on the chart. “They basically said, ‘well OK we’re sailing from Dundee and we’re going to Antwerp and we’ll draw a line and we’ll go the quickest way possible,’ without really thinking.”
But, according to the programme, that doesn’t explain why no one spotted the Farne Islands and a flashing lighthouse. All large ships have an alarm system which should ensure the look-out is awake and doing their job.
Alan told the programme: “If he’s fallen asleep it will alarm in the captain’s cabin and if the captain doesn’t acknowledge it, it will ring everywhere. Now the Danio did have a very basic bridge watch alarm, but it was switched off.”
To find out why it was switched off, Inside Out tracks down the German owner of the Danio to Poland where the vessel is being repaired.
Frank Dahl is keen to show his ship had a working watch alarm and stresses it was his company policy to use it. He makes it clear that he blames the captain and the first mate for the accident.
He told the programme: “The technique is perfect, it’s the humans that make mistakes...”
He subsequently fired the captain, Tadeusz Dudek, and the first mate.
In an exclusive interview, presenter Chris Jackson, also spoke to Captain Dudek for the programme via telephone. He asks about the first mate falling asleep.
Speaking in broken English, Captain Dudek said: “It is what he told in his statement and it looks like it is true.”
And he admits that if he had used the alarm system the accident could have been prevented. “Yes I should be but I forgot. For sure this would not happen (if the alarm had been used).”
But can the ship’s owner sidestep all of the blame? According to maritime law, they are also liable for unsafe management and operation.
Alan Thomson added: “He employs them, it is his responsibility as the operator and owner to supply certificated personnel who are trained and familiar with the operation of the vessel.”
Inside Out also reveals that 95 per cent of Britain’s freight is shifted by sea and last year a third of all ships detained for serious breaches were found in the North East.
However, British authorities have still to decide whether to bring criminal charges in the case of the Danio.
The programme will be broadcast on BBC ONE (North East & Cumbria) tonight (Monday, September 2) at 7.30pm.