Svitzer has been fined £2.1 million (€2.4 million) for failing to operate a vessel safely, which resulted in the tragic death of a chief tugboat engineer.

Svitzer pleaded guilty to that charge and to failing to provide a safe system of work.

In a statement to Maritime Journal, Svitzer managing director Lise Demant said the company acknowledged from the outset that it could have done better.

“We entered pleas on both offences at the earliest opportunity,” she said. “Since the accident, we have implemented the recommendations of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch report, as well as used our own lessons learned processes to help prevent any repetition of the events on the Mersey.”

On January 27, 2019, tugboat chief engineer Ian Webb, 62, fell into the River Mersey in Liverpool, England, and despite being pulled out, he died from the cold water.

Photograph of the tugboat Millgarth on the water

The tugboat Millgarth

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Webb had loosened the mooring lines of the Millgarth  tugboat to cast it off from the Tranmere north jetty in the River Mersey during storm force conditions. 

“Mr Webb released the mooring lines and attempted to return to the tug, stepping down from the jetty onto a fender,” said the MCA. “The tug was free from the jetty and rolling in the swell of the river.

“Expected to stand on top of a narrow, wet fender with unprotected drops either side, Mr Webb fell into the river. He was eventually rescued by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, but Mr Webb died from the effects of cold water immersion.”

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch said Mr Webb’s lifejacket inflated automatically on entering the water and although his crewmates were able to recover him alongside the tug within five minutes, they were unable to lift the chief engineer out of the water because he had quickly become incapacitated in the cold water and lost consciousness. He suffered cardiac arrest and could not be revived.

The incident triggered an investigation by the MCA, which found that Svitzer had not completed a risk assessment of the Tranmere jetties, despite crews raising concerns. 

“Svitzer Marine had failed to instruct crews in how to operate rescue equipment, failed to ensure rescue equipment was correctly fitted, and failed to ensure safety drills were being conducted,” the court heard.

Sentencing Svitzer Marine, Judge Byrne said the incident had been avoidable and that even in better weather conditions, the operation was ‘inherently unsafe’.

Svitzer Marine was fined £2million and ordered to pay £136,711 costs, totalling a sum of £2,136,711 (€2.4 million).

“We can never bring Ian Webb back to his family, but what we can do is ensure that we as a company have learned from this experience and do everything in our power to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future,” said Demant.