NorthLink vessel rolls 16 degrees after technical fault

The NorthLink ferry listed badly on a southbound voyage after an auto-pilot control suffered a technical fault.

Passengers onboard Wednesday’s sailing from Lerwick to Kirkwall were left frightened when the Hjaltland rolled 16 degrees.

Serco NorthLink insists control was regained within 14 seconds.

But one passenger has described feeling as if the vessel was “going down at one stage”.

The incident follows last month’s near-miss involving the Hrossey and the MCA-chartered vessel, Herakles, as the NorthLink vessel made her approach to Orkney. In a new development, screen grabs taken from the Orkney harbour authority’s Vessel Tracking System appear to show that, at one point, the Hrossey was 36 seconds away from colliding with the tug.

Referring to this week’s incident, Serco NorthLink’s marine manager, Captain Stuart McCallum, said: “Whilst on passage south from Lerwick to Kirkwall, MV Hjaltland recorded average nine degree rolls in the weather conditions being experienced … namely southerly force 6 – moderate seas.

“A heavier than average roll was experienced at 21:38:42 recorded at 16 degrees. The cause of this additional roll was identified as a technical issue with the auto pilot control. During the roll and subsequent course recovery hand steering was engaged and control established immediately, normal passage resuming at 21:38:56.

“The vessel was under the bridge watch keeping authority of the chief officer at the time who maintained and provided, as we would expect, a professional response to the technical issue experienced.”

Although short, the incident sparked a host of online comments from passengers and others concerned by what had taken place.

One person onboard was Lerwick woman Heather Summers.

She posted on Facebook: “On boat last night and not sure what happened just before Orkney, but thought we were going down at one stage!! Nearly fell over in the cabin with the sharp tilt it took.”

It comes as pressure mounts on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to investigate the near-miss involving the Hrossey and Herakles.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott is calling on the emergency service to fulfil its statutory responsibility to inquire into marine incidents by probing the episode, which happened as the NorthLink ferry was making her approach into Hatston Pier on 3rd July.

Mr Scott has written to the agency’s chief executive, Sir Alan Massey, concerning the incident in which the Hrossey took evasive action to avoid the tug.

He also wants to know if the Herakles was anchored in the main shipping lane approaching Hatston, and why it was there on a night of thick mist when the Hrossey was due in on her normal schedule.

Last month the Marine Accident Investigation Branch turned down a request by Mr Scott to launch its own investigation after several passengers reported drinks flying off tables and people falling against walls as the Hrossey rolled suddenly to one side. The decision not to investigate came despite the MAIB itself describing the episode as a “hazardous” incident.

The ferry was carrying almost 400 passengers at the time, as well as her 40-strong crew. Serco insisted last month that no further action was required.

In his letter to the MCA chief, Mr Scott states: “Given this incident involved the MCA chartered ETV Herakles I would be grateful for clarification on the following points:

● Has the MCA investigated this incident?
● Was the Herakles anchored in the main shipping lane approaching Hatston Pier and if so why?
● Why was the Herakles in this area on a night of thick mist and when the Hrossey was due in on her normal schedule?
● At what point did the Herakles crew become aware of the Hrossey as she entered the harbour area?

“I would be grateful for your advice on this incident as I am concerned that there has apparently been no investigation into this incident by an external body.”

Mr Scott added there were “clear separation and manoeuvring details” that needed to be looked at.
“Marine experts inform me that it would normal for the MCA to undertake an investigation. I would add that a number of constituents have approached me who are aware of what happened and there is considerable public interest in understanding what happened and why in my constituency. I share that interest.”

The MCA’s Laura Etheridge said the agency had received the letter from Mr Scott and was considering the information provided. She said no comment would be made until the body was aware of all the facts, adding Sir Alan would respond directly to Mr Scott.

In a letter to the MSP, Orkney harbour master Brian Archibald outlined the course taken by the Hrossey on the night in question.

The harbour master said the closest range of the tug, when ahead of the Hrossey’s beam, was 1.74 cables, or 321 metres.

Another of the VTS screens showed the tug’s range on the Hrossey’s starboard beam – at which point any risk had passed – was 1.41 cables (260 metres).

Yet another screen grab from a later point in time shows the closest range between the vessels was 1.36 cables (251 metres). But by this time the tug was abaft, or behind, the beam of the Hrossey and was, therefore, past and clear.

Mr Archibald said the Hrossey was travelling at 20.8 knots as she entered Kirkwall Bay. He added the speed dropped, as expected, as she turned. At the point of being past and clear, her speed was 17.7 knots.


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