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Union says fatal accident inquiry into Cemfjord sinking is ‘wholly inadequate’

The upturned hull of the Cypriot registered Cemfjord was discovered by a passing ferry in the Pentland Firth in January 2015.
The upturned hull of the Cypriot registered Cemfjord was discovered by a passing ferry in the Pentland Firth in January 2015.

Union representatives are renewing their calls for a public inquiry to be launched into the sinking of a cargo ship in the Pentland Firth.

Cemfjord, a bulk cement carrier, was last recorded travelling west off the Caithness coast on the afternoon of Friday January 2 2015.

Tragically, a passing ferry discovered the overturned hull of the Cypriot registered vessel a day later.

All eight seamen on board died as a result of the incident.

Seven years on, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has confirmed a fatal accident inquiry will now be held into the tragedy.

However, union representatives from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) say an FAI is “wholly inadequate” to help ensure safety for workers in the cargo sector.

‘Families forced to relive trauma and agony’

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “The Cemfjord was another appalling tragedy which claimed the lives of international crew working on a cargo vessel in UK waters.

“The seven Russian and one Filipino national who lost their lives in the Pentland Firth were working on a Cypriot flagged vessel under commercial pressure which proved fatal, as the MAIB investigation found in 2016. Five bodies were never recovered.

“As we have seen in the offshore industry, the problem with the fatal accident inquiry process in Scotland is that families effectively have to replay the trauma and agony of their loss with no prospect of effective justice or binding recommendations that might avoid a repeat of these catastrophic incidents.

“The current conflict in Ukraine also adds further complications for the families of the Russian crew members who lost their lives.”

A picture of the cargo ship Cemfjord sinking
A fatal accident inquiry is to be held into the 2015 tragedy.

The Crown Office declined to confirm the reason for the lengthy wait to start the proceedings.

A spokesman said: “The COPFS investigation into the deaths of the eight seamen in the Pentland Firth in 2015 is complete and work is ongoing in preparation for the holding of a fatal accident inquiry.”

Cemfjord remains at bottom of Pentland Firth

The stricken vessel remains at the bottom of the sea bed, at a depth of around 270ft below sea level.

Vessel owners Brise of Hamburg declared in February 2016 that the wreckage should remain “undisturbed” acting as a sea grave to those who died on board.

A detailed underwater survey was undertaken in the weeks following the loss of the ship by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

The investigation involved sending a remote operated vehicle (ROV) underwater to examine the wreck.

The investigation confirmed that attempts to salvage the wreckage would be extremely challenging.

Investigators also confirmed no sightings of the missing crew’s bodies when reviewing the footage.

Seven of the ship’s crew were from Poland with the eighth from the Phillipines.

No attempts have been made to retrieve the missing men’s bodies following the 2015 incident.

Relatives of the eight men killed at sea were taken by boat to the area of the Pentland Firth six months on from the disaster to lay wreaths in their memory.

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