By Dr Chris Ware
A sultry evening in July and a routine crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne, on the Isle of Wight, should both literally as well as figuratively, be ‘plain sailing’. At 22-30 the St Helen was unloading at Fishbourne , in the same way as she had over the past 24 years, the mezzanine car deck dropped approximately 8 feet twisting as it did. Three passengers and one member of the crew were injured. However what it highlights once again is that something as straightforward as a crossing of the Solent is not that at all, it is four miles of open water with a major shipping lane running East-West and subject to short steep seas which can be brought about by the prevailing winds.
However it was none of these which caused the accident on the 18th July. What precisely did happened is not clear from the published reports the deck was part way down then it dropped, for those in their cars a frightening experience, for the crew at the forwarded end of the ramp terrifying. Was this mechanical failure, or human error? The Marine Accident Investigation will, it is to be hoped get to the bottom of this. It is a timely reminder that ferries work in a dynamic environment and are subject to stress and strains, which the passengers, as they sample the delights of the lounge, be that coffee, tea, or something stronger do not necessarily, appreciate. A Ferry is a complex system where everything needs to work as planned be it human or mechanical.