Revealed: How foreign nations control probes on Scottish maritime casualties

A review of the arrangements has been called for amid fears of a lack of enforcement and protection in Scottish waters given overseas jurisdiction for foreign drillships and rigs serving the oil and gas industry and the growing offshore wind farm industry.

An incident that threatened a “disaster” near the Hunterston B nuclear power plant two years ago has raised local concerns, which have been cited by authorities in the Republic of the Marshall Islands – over 8,000 miles away. The probe came after the 748-foot drillship Valaris DS4, with eight crew members on board, broke from its mooring and began to drift without power amid high winds.

Locals told the Herald on Sunday at the time it was just a “miracle” that prevented what happened near the Hunterston B nuclear plant from being “an absolute disaster with multiple deaths”.

It turned out that authorities in the Republic of the Marshall Islands under investigation determined that it was an anchoring failure and made a list of recommendations without assigning blame or liability.

However, there were concerns that there was a lack of “comprehensive flag state regulations to ensure the safety” of laid-up ships in ports and ports.

They also found a lack of requirements for Marshall Islands-registered vessels to undergo inspections or other types of oversight to ensure they do not pose a safety risk.

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It found that there are no port regulations designed to ensure the safety of ships berthed in UK ports and ports.

It found that identifying and accounting for local conditions, including stronger-than-predicted winds, was “inadequate”.

Concerns were raised that there appeared to be no framework to ensure the findings of the investigation were enforced in the UK.

Further concerns have surfaced after it was revealed that an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a worker in the North Sea was being conducted by authorities in Liberia over 5,000 miles away.

Jason Thomas, 50, from Wales, went missing around 9pm on January 22 while the Valaris 121 jack-up platform – used to service offshore wind turbines – was being towed some 98 miles east of Aberdeen.

The Health and Safety Executive stepped in after the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) raised concerns about a “vacuum of regulatory coverage”.

HSE, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) all previously said they would not launch any formal investigations.

The MAIB and MCA said they would not launch a formal investigation as the vessel was not registered in the UK and the incident occurred in international waters – beyond 12 nautical miles out to sea.

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Drillships are used to explore new oil and gas wells and have been repurposed for wind farms and other scientific investigations.

But the MCA, which is responsible for enforcing UK and international maritime law and security policy, admits it has no precedence in many investigations involving ships based abroad.

They say they will only be involved if the circumstances can be shown to be related to safety-related issues on board.

East Lothian MP and Alba Party Deputy Leader Kenny MacAskill and RMT regional organizer Jake Molloy are pushing for clear definitions of what Britain is in control of.

Mr MacAskill said it was “unacceptable” for Liberia to lead an inquiry and lacked consistent and effective offshore safety legislation, which affects thousands of workers in the offshore energy supply chain across Scotland and the UK.

He says the way the maritime sector handles incidents puts lives at risk.


He said: “We have the absurdity of responsibility for an inquiry and jurisdiction to enforce an incident that resulted in the death of a UK worker that does not lie with the police or the Crown, the Health and Safety Agency or the MCA.

“Or even with an organization based in Aberdeen or Dundee, Edinburgh or London but in the flag state… a country on another continent.

“The problem of the lack of health and safety rights goes well beyond this incident or this ship. It gets to the heart of how the new sector we are transitioning to will work.”

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A Fairlie councilor, David Telford, who raised concerns about safety issues surrounding Valaris DS4 in early 2021 ahead of the “near disaster” near the nuclear power plant, said he was not happy with the investigation taking place in the Marshall Islands and be concerned about enforcement.

“It is an absolute disgrace that this incident was passed on to the flag country and not carried out directly here. For God’s sake it happened in this country.


Concerns were first raised after the giant drillships Valaris DS4 and DS8 arrived in the narrow waters between the mainland and the Isle of Cumbrae in late 2020.

In August 2020, Valaris Plc, the world’s largest offshore drilling and well drilling company with the world’s largest fleet, fell victim to the global collapse in oil prices and filed for bankruptcy while trying to restructure around $7 billion in debt . It came into being a year later after restructuring, the debts were eliminated.

When the drillships arrived in Hunterston there were concerns that they would be ‘dumped’ in Scotland and Fairlie Council, in its safety warning, feared that ‘there would be no prospective work for these vessels in the near future’.

After the incident, Peel Ports, which is responsible for the former coal-handling port site, indicated at the time that there would be a commission of inquiry.

A second vessel moored at the terminal also required assistance during the incident and was held in place by tugboats.

An MCA spokesman said that in the Valaris DS4 incident, it was the Marshall Islands that conducted the investigation and that “further action is theirs”.

They said Peel Ports was recommended in the Marshall Islands Inquiry Report to compile guidance on how to plan and conduct ship decommissioning in UK ports.

“The MCA has been asked, in cooperation with the Port Marine Safety Code Steering Group, to consider publishing these guidance nationally,” a spokesman said.

The HSE has been asked for comment. Revealed: How foreign nations control probes on Scottish maritime casualties

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