Lights out for Mayo County Council
Mayo County Council have been found to be primarily responsible for the grounding of a Passenger and Cargo vessel at Roonagh Pier in County Mayo.
In a recent case, Conways Solicitors acted on behalf of the Ferry operator.
The Ferry was coming from Inishturk to Roonagh Pier. Half way through the voyage a crew member received a text from the Skipper of another vessel belonging to the same company that the leading light was out. The vessel has two passengers and three crew.
The pier has white leading lights which give an approach to the pier from the NW on a heading of 144º (T). These are category 2 navigational aids. The pier also has a flashing green light on the seaward end; this is a category 3 navigational aid. There were also working lights on the upper prier wall but these did not provide any illumination to the water below.
The Skipper expected the flashing green light to be working and so proceeded to attempt to land at Roonagh Pier. Upon turning on the leading line of 144º NW. As he did so it became apparent that not only was there an issue with the leading light but that the Green light was not working either.
Leading lights are designed to provide a very clear aid to navigation at night. Two lights are positioned near one another. One, called the front light, is lower than the one behind, which is called the rear light. At night when viewed from a ship, the two lights only become aligned vertically when a vessel is positioned on the correct bearing. If the vessel is on an incorrect course, the lights will not align.
In this instance the lower leading light was out and the aligning effect was therefore not available.
In addition the Green light was not working.
At that point the Master felt that it was safe to proceed and that he could land the vessel. A crew member was deployed to use a Marine Search light outside the main cabin to locate the harbour wall.
As he approached it transpired that he was further left that he thought, and went up on rocks at the mouth of the Pier. One of the passengers was injured in the process and suffered back injuries.
The Ferry operator proceeded to settle the claim brought by the Passenger and sought a contribution from Mayo County Council. The matter was not resolved between the parties and accordingly the matter proceeded to be heard for 15 days in the High Court in Dublin.
Mayo County Council contended that the Master should and ought to have used his Navigational aids on board to effect a proper landing. They argued that GPS plotter and radar would have allowed the Master to get right to the pier.
Expert evidence disagreed on this point and ultimately the Court preferred the evidence of the Ferry Operator that this was not practical.
In relation to the lights themselves, the Council contended that they had done all that they could from a maintenance point of view. When cross examined though, it became apparent that there were no maintenance records and that the whole process was very much unstructured.
In addition, the County Council could not satisfy the Court that the lights were working and that the County Council had responded to repeated communications from the Ferry operator that action needed to be taken to repair the Aids to Navigation.
The principal cause of the accident was a defective lighting regime on Roonagh Pier when it was dark, the judge held.
This had created an “effectively non-existent navigational aid” at night for the ferry, he said.
He felt that the action of the Local Council were below those of what could be expected by the other parties.
While the Judge did feel that the Master could have done things differently, the duty of care owed to the Plaintiff and to the Ferry operator had been breached by the Local Authority. He found the local Authority to thirds responsible for the accident.