We still have many lessons to learn, says maritime laywer Michael Kingston, as no regulatory review of the incident ever took place
‘I REMEMBER the Kowloon Bridge well, and the oil from the bunkers washing up along our coast,’ recalled London-based maritime lawyer Michael Kingston.
‘In Crookhaven, if you went swimming you would come home with lumps of thick oil somewhere on your towel or clothes – even a few years later,’ he said.
Mr Kingston, who lost his father in the Whiddy oil disaster just seven years earlier, said there were a series of significant failings in the Kowloon Bridge incident.
‘Firstly, the ship should never have been allowed to leave Bantry in an unseaworthy condition. Whether this was a procedural failure by our government agencies, or by the owners and operators, or both, is something that should have been thoroughly investigated to ensure it can never happen again. That decision put the pristine Irish coastline in jeopardy and we paid a significant price,’ said Mr Kingston, who was named the Lloyds Maritime Laywer of the Year in 2014.
‘In relation to the wreck itself, because of the decision to allow the ship to leave Bantry, and the failure of the ship’s steering so soon after, it seems there was no time to attempt a salvage of the casualty situation and it was inevitable that a wreck would ensue,’ he suggested.
‘Having worked on the Lloyd’s of London Removal of Wreck Report following the sinking of the Costa Concordia, there is a huge emphasis today by authorities on the protection of the environment. First – life of personnel must be saved, then all measures must be taken to protect the environment, and then the salvage or rescue of the vessel itself. The Costa Concordia wreck had to be removed in one piece due to environmental concerns. The hull insurers paid out m and the removal of the wreck cost .5bn, mainly due to environmental sensitivities,’ the Goleen native pointed out.
‘I have no doubt that if this incident occurred today off the Irish Coast, further measures would have to be taken to save the environment from the bunker pollution that occurred. I also believe that the Irish government may well be pressurised to demand a removal of the wreck if this incident occurred today. She rests in shallow water. If any closer to a bay entrance or an environmentally sensitive area (which arguably she rests in), this would simply be inevitable.’
Mr Kingston said that what is most important is that we learn lessons from history. ‘Within an eight-year period West Cork experienced the Betelgeuse Disaster at Whiddy Island and then the Kowloon Bridge, both massive failures to cope with an emergency situation in Bantry Bay.’
No proper regulatory review has ever taken place by the Irish government, he noted.
‘I have called for one to take place. It is inevitable that another incident will occur in the absence of that review, a review that would ensure that ‘best practice’ always prevails in marine operations within Irish jurisdiction to avoid such disasters and to protect life and the environment. I will not rest until such a review is complete,’ he told The Southern Star.
‘A removal of the wreck now merely for material gain – given the now deteriorated state the ship is in – should not be allowed if there is a danger of further pollution.’