Sunday, May 27, 2007

The puzzle tour

We have often asked ourselves why such an obvious fault in the design of the Gaul had escaped the attention of scores of technical experts and assessors during years of legal battles and official scrutiny.
Why was this fault not noticed when the drawings were examined, immediately after the loss of the vessel?
Is it really possible that the design fault was, in fact, noticed?
Is it possible that the 2002 discovery of the design fault in the duff and offal chutes was, in fact, a re-discovery?
The labyrinthine trail of the Gaul’s history has eventually lead us back to the autumn of 1977 when, probably for the first time, the possibility of a problem with the chutes on the Gaul, as a likely cause for the loss of the vessel, was recorded. In a memo dated 14 September 1977, the Surveyor General in the Department of Trade (DOT) wrote:
It would indeed be a bonus if we not only located the GAUL but also established the cause of the loss. However, most evidence points to the GAUL being an intact ship, so we can give little guidance as to damage and I would expect small openings[1] which may have allowed the entry of water to the factory deck to be indetectable. The soundings also indicate the wreck which we suspect is the GAUL, is lying on its side…” Source RFI formal report paragraph 8.25
On 22 December 1977, the NMI released the report of their DOT-sponsored research into the sea-keeping and stability characteristics of the Gaul. These findings refuted the conclusions of the 1974 Formal Investigation by establishing that flooding of the factory deck would have been a precondition for the vessel’s capsize.
In a strange twist of logic, the results of the NMI research were subsequently interpreted as clearing the vessel’s builders and designers of any responsibility and, thus, the case[2] against them was dropped. In the whole maze of tangle and misdirection, this was probably a significant point. A supreme example of slothful induction, the decision implied that a design fault on the vessel could have only been contemplated if the capsize and sinking had been caused by water accumulated on the trawl deck - that is water accumulated on the factory deck could not have been put down to a design fault or construction error, but only to crew action or inaction. (?!)
During the 30 years of floundering and confusion that followed, no one managed to reach the centre of this circular labyrinth – the place where, as the legend has it, you will probably find a monster.
[1] There were only two “small openings” capable of admitting water to the factory deck that would be undetectable if the vessel was lying on its starboard side: the duff and offal chute openings.
[2] In February 1997, a writ alleging negligence had been issued against the Gaul’s owners and its designers/ builders, Brooke Marine shipyard, by the families of the crew.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The loss of decency

I’ve just found out that the author of the controversial research papers on the Gaul RFI, published on these pages, has again been threatened by a politically regimented civil servant/ vigilante/informer camped within a government agency.

Allusions to our source’s job security and pension were made. The message was clear: you either shut up, or you will be sorry.
(This must be an improvement, we thought, considering the death threats previously received and the other more serious abuses that had been committed.)

How sad the place where the political loyalty of placemen and informers is a substitute for professional competence and integrity, and where the government of the day places itself outside the reach of the law.

Putting things straight

Monday, May 21, 2007

Now and then

In 1976 the UK National Maritime Institute completed a model of the MFV Gaul. The subsequent model tests and associated research took more than two years. The model was operated in the towing tank at NMI Feltham and then tested in real sea conditions, in Christchurch Bay.
The NMI conclusions, set out in their report of 1978, confirmed that: in the intact condition the stability of the mv Gaul was adequate. The stability of the vessel would be reduced to a dangerous level only when the factory deck was in a partially flooded condition.
(Anybody interested in viewing the official records of this research, can view the original clip HERE)
Prior to the 2004 Re-opened Formal Investigation, the Marine Research Institute of Netherlands was contracted to build a new model of the Gaul and test its survivability under various parameters. This model was afterwards tested in a water tank that simulated the waves and winds on a proportional scale. MARIN also carried out a FREDYN time domain computer simulation of the vessel’s behaviour in various operational and environmental conditions.
PHOTO ALBUM (click NEXT on the right panel)
The results of the 2003 MARIN model tests confirmed that: rapid accumulation of water on the factory deck would sink the vessel.
(Anybody interested in viewing the official records of this research, can view one of the original clips HERE)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Decoy ducks and submarines

Lies and secrecy provide a fertile soil from which myths are born. A lot of mystery and speculation has, therefore, surrounded the loss of the trawler Gaul.
Stories like those about the vessel having been sunk by a submarine or captured by the Russians are still inflaming many imaginations, granting the Gaul tragedy a more dramatic and mysterious twist.
These myths also serve the present oligarchs well: they deflect from an embarrassing truth, offer an alternative to the disputed results of the RFI, but do not bear financial implications. (In this way, the families can have their fair share of discontent, but cannot sue for compensation because the evidence is not there.)
The design defect identified as the most likely cause for the loss of the Gaul, on the other hand, could prove more costly, meaning that several institutions might become liable for substantial compensation to the families of the victims.
The Gaul 'sunk by a submarine' story – based on some tattle somebody overheard in a cafeteria – was therefore taken very seriously by the 2004 RFI panel; so seriously, in fact, that the proceedings were re-started to hear the gossip.
(I don’t say that fishermen never got entangled in matters of espionage or warfare, or that vessels were never lost due to submarines. What I mean is that there is no factual evidence that this was the case with the Gaul.)
To keep the myths going and deflect attention from concrete technical matters, a number of rumour merchants - turned decoy ducks, Internet trolls and salaried opinion formers, knowingly or not, are now in the business of using these spectacular scenarios as ‘red herrings’ to counter the emerging facts.
Thus, each time some factual evidence comes out, the submarine also pops back up to the surface and each time the design defect is invoked, the Russian spies rear their heads again.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More about the main design fault on the Gaul
In an earlier posting we gave details of the main design fault that was present in the closing arrangements for the duff and offal chute openings on the Gaul (i.e. that that non-return flap plates opened the wrong way). In that posting we suggested that, if for any reason the flap valve was not fully closed, it could be opened by the action of the sea.
In fact, those comments did not reveal the full extent of the problem; the design of the flap valve was such that even if the valve had been in the fully closed position, the forces of the sea could have opened it.
Furthermore, this is not a just a hypothetical scenario, the partial print from one of the Gaul’s drawings (below), shows that there was a lip or ‘free edge’ at the end of the flap for the sea to act on.

And the VIDEO CLIP in our previous post shows in graphic detail just how easy it would have been for this “non-return” flap valve to open and for the seawater to flood into the factory deck of the vessel.


If the above link does not work, please try HERE

Monday, May 07, 2007

Back garden model testing
At the end of the 2004 RFI, the wreck commissioner opined: “[…] it is important to note that although both chutes were found on the wreck to be open both in way of the non-return flap and the internal top cover, there is no known mechanical reason why this was so.[1]
This viewpoint has recently been echoed by the the Treasury Solicitor who said: “there was no evidence that the chutes had been forced open by wave or water action so this was not advanced as a loss scenario by the experts
Having enjoyed the benefits of a sunny weekend, we decided to construct a small-scale (and cheap) model of the chutes and test them with a hose. The results of this simple experiment provide a clear illustration of the SCENARIO whereby the design fault in the duff and offal chutes on the Gaul caused the flooding and loss of the vessel.
Simple mechanics!
[1] Report of the Re-opened Formal Investigation into the Loss of the FV Gaul
The video file can be dowloaded from this SITE (2.9 Mb)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

At the centre of the web

Following on from our previous post, regarding our request for the two RFI papers kept in the DfT vaults, we can now inform you that we eventually had to go back to the Treasury Solicitor to find out whether he was ready to provide the DfT with the coordinates of the documents in question.
“All roads lead to Rome”, a proverb says; similarly, in the Gaul RFI case, all roads lead to the TSol - to the Attorney General, in fact, as the Treasury Solicitor is just the front desk of that milliarium aureum to which all related questions are referred and from which all governmental responses seem to radiate.
As the Romans designed their radial network of roads with the purpose of preventing provinces getting together and organising resistance against the Empire, so has the Attorney General’s office placed itself at the centre of things in the Gaul inquiry. No request for information or inspection of the government’s chronicles is therefore possible without going through his nodal office first.
As a result, the TSol is now in the position to decree that not all documents in a public inquiry are public, and that these cannot be released without the agreement of the wreck commissioner, of the RFI retained experts[1] (all of whom cannot be contacted directly) and, ultimately, of the Attorney General, himself.
This “all roads lead to Rome” approach seems beneficial and expedient for the moment; however, the downside of this is, as it was for the Romans, that retaliating forces can also take these direct routes and reach the centre - just as quickly.
[1] The RFI retained experts were paid significant sums of money from the public purse; whatever they produced should therefore be available for public scrutiny.