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Chapter I
Factual Information
1.1 Synopsis
The privately owned rigid-hulled inflatable boat Morfil (Figure 1.1) collided with the passenger
ferry Sun Clipper (Figure 1.2) by Blackfriars Road Bridge on the River Thames, London. The
vessels were travelling in opposite directions. On impact, Morfil’s 2 crew were pitched into the
water, the RIB, which was now unmanned, continued to turn to starboard at a fast speed until it hit
and ricocheted off the stone buttress between the No.1 and No.2 arches of Blackfriars Road Bridge.
Morfil collided for the second time with Sun Clipper.
Morfil’s co-owners were quickly rescued by the local inshore lifeboat; both were shocked but
uninjured. Morfil eventually grounded under the road bridge and was a constructive total loss.
Damage to Sun Clipper was only superficial and there was no pollution.
There were several factors that contributed to the incident. Primary, Morfil’s coxswain was
under the influence of alcohol and did not take action to avoid Sun Clipper until between 1 and 2
seconds before the collision.
On the other hand, the action taken by Sun Clipper’s master to avoid the collision was limited
by the proximity of the road bridge and mooring buoys. It is important to bring into question the
importance of Refurbishment works under the Blackfriars Road Bridge resulted in both vessels
using the same bridge arch and their skippers not being able to see each other until about 10 seconds
before the collision.
Also the Morfil’s speed was significantly greater than the 12 knots limit recommended by the
Port of London Authority.
Lastly but not unimportant Morfil’s coxswain had limited knowledge and experience of
navigating on the River Thames and was unaware of, or ignored, the local regulations and advice.
The human error is particularly attributed to the inexperienced Morfil’s coxswain which also
drank several glasses of wine before taking the boat for a pleasure ride. There have been at least 45
fatalities resulting from accidents to pleasure vessels over the last 6 years in which alcohol has been
a contributory factor. It was extremely fortunate that a further two fatalities did not result from this
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The introduction of an alcohol limit for persons in charge of pleasure vessels was first
recommended in The Hayes Report almost 20 years ago. The use of byelaws by harbour authorities
to deter alcohol consumption on pleasure vessels is largely ineffective.

1.2 Particularities of Morfil

Vessel description

Morfil (Figure 2.1) was a privately owned rigid-hulled inflatable boat type Zodiac Medline II
RIB built in 2000 by Zodiac International, Spain.
She had a single hull constructed of glass reinforced plastic (GRP), which had an
inflatable tube attached to the upper part of the outer hull that passed around the
bow and along both port and starboard sides. Additional informations consists in it’s size:

Table 1.1 General info about Zodiac Medline II RIB

Length Overall 6 m (19’8’’)

Internal Length 4.95 m (16’3’’)

External Beam 2.5 m (8’2”)

Internal Beam 1.35m (4’6”)

Dry Weight 690 Kg (1521lbs)

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Figure 1.1 Morfil

Morfil was certified under the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) to carry a maximum of 11
persons in inshore waters, and 5 persons in offshore waters.

Table 1.2 Particularities of Morfil

Registered owner Private ownership
Port of registry Port Of London
Flag British
Type Rigid-hulled inflatable Zodiac Medline
Built 2000
Construction GRP
Engine type Mercury Optimax 135 hp
Port Of Departure St Katherine’s Pier,
River Thames
Port Of Arrival Cadogan Pier, River
Thames (intended)
Type of voyage Pleasure trip
Manning 2
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In a more detailed way Mercury Optimax 135 hp engine\, provided a maximum output of
99.3kW and an approximate top speed of 35 knots when
carrying 2 persons.
Other relevant information about the equipment included- a steering wheel, rocker switches
for the navigational lights and bilge pump, and throttle control lever. Also the console had VHF
radio, a chart plotter, a magnetic compass, an unserviceable speedometer, and an engine revolution
gauge. The chart plotter had not been switched on at the time of the accident. The RIB was fitted
with a kill switch but there was no kill cord attached.
A flare pack, a first-aid kit, a man overboard recovery line and four inflatable lifejackets
were the main safety equipment included. They also carried coastal charts and an additional hand-
held VHF radio.
The vessel was operated by one of the co-owners. They were both on board at the time of the
accident. Morfil’s coxswain held a Ski Boat Driver Award (SBDA) for inland and coastal waters,
issued by British Water Ski and Wakeboard (BWSW) in 1994. Since then, his boat driving had been
limited to water skiing during family holidays, the delivery trip from Poole, and several excursions
in Morfil on the River Thames.
In another order of ideas the other co-owner had no boat-handling experience and the night
of the accident was the first occasion he had been in the RIB since its arrival in London. Both the
coxswain and the co-owner reported that they intended to complete a boat-driving course.
Built in Spain, Morfil’s owners purchased the RIB through a brokerage service in Poole,
England in May 2011 with the intention of using it for pleasure trips on the River Thames. The
owners relocated Morfil by sea. The trip completed without any incident. During the trip the
coxswain was assisted by three friends. One of them was an experienced boat handler. The co-owner
did not embark for the trip.
At the time of the accident the coxswain was aware that he had exceeded the alcohol limit
applicable to drivers of road vehicles, but felt confident that he would be able to drive Morfil safely.
The co-owners met unexpectedly at the theater and during the interval, which started at about 2010,
the coxswain consumed several glasses of wine and agreed with the co-owner to take Morfil out for
a short trip after the show. They were taken at the Cadogan Piers by friends.
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1.3 Particularities of Sun Clipper

Sun Clipper (Figure 1.2) is a passenger ferry, 98gt HSC catamaran, was built in 2001 by North
Queensland Engineers and Agents (NQEA), Australia, and was constructed of aluminium, with
rubber fendering attached to the hull just below the main deck level. Sun Clipper operated in Ireland
and Nigeria before she was bought by Thames Clippers in 2005. The HSC was authorised to carry a
maximum of 138 passenger (Table 1.3).

Table 1.3 Particularities of Sun Clipper

Registered owner Thames Clippers
Manager Thames Clippers
Flag UK
Type Category A, passenger craft high
speed catamaran
Built 2001, Australia
Construction Aluminium
Minimum safe maning 3
Authorised cargo 138 passengers
Service speed 26 knots

She has a length overall of 30.03 metres, a breadth of 7.8 meters (Table 3.2), and had a service
speed of 26 knots.

Table 1.4 General Info HSC catamaran

Overall Length 30.03m
Breadth extreme 7.8m
Deadweight: 13 t
Gross tonnage 98gt

Sun Clipper was operated with a crew of 3.The crew comprised the master, mate and one
passenger cabin attendant. The master joined Thames Clippers in 2009 and held an HSC type-rating
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certificate. He also held a boatmaster’s license with endorsements that allowed him to work on river
Thames. In addition he also had qualifications in sea survival, first-aid, global maritime and distress radio,
and radar.
The mate also held a boatmaster’s license with River Thames endorsements, along with
qualifications in sea survival, first-aid, and VHF radio. He had joined Thames Clippers in 2001 as an
apprentice and, although a qualified master, he occasionally served as a mate.
The passenger services attendant was new to the company. The day of the accident was her
second day of duty following the completion of her training.
All of the crew had completed the Thames Clippers’ crowd control training. The master and
mate had also completed the company’s in-house training course in crisis management.

Figure 1.2 Sun Clipper

Thames Clippers (or MBNA Thames Clippers) is a river bus service on the River Thames in
London. The company operates both commuter services between eastern and central London and
tourist services under license from London River Services. At present they transport around 8,500
passengers daily. Founded in 1999, Thames Clippers operates a fleet of 13 vessels on a commuter
service along the River Thames. The company administrates 4 lines which have 19 terminals.
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Main commuter service (RB1) runs between Embankment Pier (on the north side of the river
by Embankment tube station and Charing Cross tube and railway stations) and the Woolwich
Arsenal Pier (on the south side of the river in Woolwich). The service runs every 20 minutes during
the day, and every 30 minutes in the very early morning and evening.
Tourist services contains Tate To Tate and Service West (Rb2) which operates between St
George Wharf Pier in Vauxhall and Bankside Pier, serving visitators travelling between the Tate
Modern museum on the south bank and the older Tate Britain in Millbank across the river. Tourists
also have Additional Service (RB3) which operates along the RB1 route to help maximize capacity
during peak periods. The O2 Express (RBX) is an express service serving London Eye, London
Bridge Pier and North Greenwich Pier for The O2. The vessels are also used for private hire, mostly
on the O2 express line.
Thames Clippers operate under license from Transport for London. The river boat service is
now better integrated into the tube and bus ticketing network.
Thames Clippers was purchased in 2006 by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

1.4 Port Of London

1.4.1 River Thames

The River Thames is the longest river in England. It is tidal from its estuary to Teddington
Lock and is crossed by 29 bridges along this stretch. The Thames is maintained for navigation by
powered craft from the estuary as far as Lechlade in Gloucestershire and for very small craft to
Cricklade. From Teddington Lock to the head of navigation, the navigation authority is the
Environment Agency. Between the sea and Teddington Lock, the river forms part of the Port of
London and navigation is administered by the Port of London Authority. Both the tidal river through
London and the non-tidal river upstream are intensively used for leisure navigation.

The non-tidal River Thames is divided into reaches by the 44 locks. The locks are staffed for
the greater part of the day, but can be operated by experienced users out of hours. This part of the
Thames links to existing navigations at the River Wey Navigation, the River Kennet and the Oxford
Canal. All craft using it must be licensed. The Environment Agency has patrol boats (named after
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tributaries of the Thames) and can enforce the limit strictly since river traffic usually has to pass
through a lock at some stage. A speed limit of 8 km/h (4.3 kn) applies. There are pairs of transit
markers at various points along the non-tidal river that can be used to check speed – a boat travelling
legally taking a minute or more to pass between the two markers.
The tidal river is navigable to large ocean-going ships as far upstream as the Pool of London
and London Bridge. Although London's upstream enclosed docks have closed and central London
sees only the occasional visiting cruise ship or warship, the tidal river remains one of Britain's main
ports. Around 60 active terminals cater for shipping of all types including ro-ro ferries, cruise liners
and vessels carrying containers, vehicles, timber, grain, paper, crude oil, petroleum products,
liquefied petroleum gas etc. There is a regular traffic of aggregate or refuse vessels, operating from
wharves in the west of London. The tidal Thames links to the canal network at the River Lea
Navigation, the Regent's Canal at Limehouse Basin and the Grand Union Canal at Brentford.
Upstream of Wandsworth Bridge a speed limit of 8 knots (15 km/h) is in force for powered
craft to protect the riverbank environment and to provide safe conditions for rowers and other river
users. There is no absolute speed limit on most of the Tideway downstream of Wandsworth Bridge,
although boats are not allowed to create undue wash. Powered boats are limited to 12 knots between
Lambeth Bridge and downstream of Tower Bridge, with some exceptions. Boats can be approved by
the harbour master to travel at speeds of up to 30 knots from below Tower Bridge to past the
Thames Barrier.

Figure 1.3 A map of the main piers in Central London

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1.4.2 Blackfriars Road Bridge

The location of the accident between pleasure vessel Morfil and passenger Catamaran Sun
Clipper was by Blackfriars Road Bridge, River Thames, London.
Blackfriars Road Bridge spans the River Thames from Blackfriars on the north bank to
Southwark on the south bank (Figure 1.3). The road bridge was built in 1869 and has five steel
frame arches that are supported by stone faced buttresses. Blackfriars
Rail Bridge is 48m downriver from the road bridge and also has five arches.
The bridges’ No.3 arches are normally used by larger vessels; smaller vessels generally use
No.2 and No.4 arches.
Refurbishment of Blackfriars Rail Bridge started in March 2009, which required each of the
rail and road bridge arches to be closed at various times. On the evening of 1 June 2011, the No.2
arches on both Blackfriars Road and Rail bridges were closed to navigation. Refurbishment works
under the Blackfriars Road Bridge resulted in both vessels(Morfil and Sun Clipper) using the same
bridge arch and their skippers not being able to see each other until about 10 seconds before the

Figure 1.4: Blackfriars Road Bridge

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1.4.3 Port of London Authority

The Port of London Authority (PLA) was established in 1909 by the Port of London Act and
is the statutory harbor authority for the 95 mile tidal stretch of the River Thames from Teddington
Lock to the Thames Estuary. The PLA’s area of responsibility is divided into two districts, Upper
(from Teddington Lock to Crossness) and Lower (from Crossness to the Thames Estuary). Each of
the districts is administered by a harbourmaster, both of whom report to a chief harbourmaster.
The Port of London is the UK’s second largest port. In 2010, 39.8 million tones of goods
were imported through the port and 8.3 million tonnes of goods were exported. Approximately 40
passenger boat operators trade on the River Thames, resulting in around 200,000 passenger pleasure
vessel movements carrying 6.5 million passengers each year; about 750,000 people a year commute
to work using the regular shuttle services.
Over 70 pleasure vessel clubs and marinas are located on the River Thames, in addition to a
large number of rowing clubs. The PLA approves and monitors about 300 organised events on the
river each year.

Figure 1.5 View of Tilbury Docks, South-East London

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1.4.4 Other naval Accidents occurred on the River Thames The collision between the passenger vessel Millennium Time and the motor tug
Redoubt with 3 barges in tow.

This accident is relevant to our work because of the location and the implication of another
passenger vessel. The passenger vessel Millennium Time collided with the motor tug Redoubt and
its towed barges between Blackfriars Road Bridge and Waterloo Bridge on the River Thames,
London, at 1414 on 17 July 2014.
The collision occurred after Millennium Time turned unexpectedly towards Redoubt, which
was travelling in the opposite direction. The turn was not deliberately initiated by the movement of
the helm and most likely resulted from the unintended application of port rudder, and/or the
influence of the effects of hydrodynamic interaction. Millennium Time’s mate was on the helm and
he initially assessed that the tug was turning towards the passenger vessel. Consequently, he did not
take avoiding action for several seconds. By then, the vessels were too close for the collision to be

Contributing factors on board Millennium Time included:

a. The wheelhouse was not fitted with a rudder angle indicator and the vessel was difficult to keep
on a steady heading.
b. The mate did not hold a boatmaster’s license and his employment as the helmsman was contrary
to the operator’s instructions.
c. The master was providing a sightseeing commentary to the passengers and did not effectively
supervise the mate on the helm.
d. Problems associated with the steering system reduced its effectiveness in meeting the
navigational challenges on the River Thames.
e. The risk of hydrodynamic interaction was increased off the Coin Street moorings where the
navigable water available had been reduced by Redoubt being 15m south of its usual track.

Following the collision, the master quickly secured the vessel alongside a moored barge but
the crew appeared to be unable to effectively manage the passengers on board and the vessel’s
watertight integrity was not checked. The crew was also unaware of the number of passengers on
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In August 2014, a recommendation was made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
intended to ensure that the procedures and control measures adopted on board Millennium Time and
its sister vessels were sufficient to enable the vessels to navigate safely on the Thames. Since then,
the vessels’ owner and operator, City Cruises, has replaced the vessels’ steering systems.
In conclusion human error has a big role in this accident but the problems associated with the
steering system are part of this incident too.

Figure 1.6 Milenium Time after collision MARCHIONESS/BOWBELLE DISASTER

The Marchioness disaster was a fatal collision between two rivercraft on the Thames in
London on 20 August 1989, drowning 51 people. The Marchioness was a pleasure steamer built in
1923 and was one of the 'little ships' of Dunkirk in 1940.The pleasure boat Marchioness sank after
being pushed under by the dredger Bowbelle, late at night near Cannon Street Railway Bridge. The
Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle in the early hours of 20 August 1989. In the initial
instant of collision the anchor of the dredger cut through the side of the Marchioness, which rolled
over and quickly filled with water, while being pushed under by the Bowbelle. As the Marchioness
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capsized, her entire superstructure became detached. The formal investigation put the time elapsed,
from the instant of collision at 1:46 a.m. to complete immersion, at close to 30 seconds. Witnesses
quoted in that investigation described the Bowbelle as "hitting Marchioness in about its centre then
(mounting) it, pushing it under the water like a toy boat. A formal inquiry blamed poor lookouts on
both vessels, and inadequate instruction of both crews.
In 1989, the River Byelaw 9 was limited to:
The master of a vessel shall not navigate the vessel when unfit by reason of drink or drugs to
do so.
In 1999, following extensive public pressure, a public inquiry, known as the Thames
Safety Inquiry into the Marchioness/Bowbelle disaster was commenced. The inquiry was chaired by
Lord Justice Clarke, who also then chaired a formal investigation into the disaster under the
Merchant Shipping Act 1985. In his findings of the formal investigation, Lord Justice Clarke
included a recommendation that primary legalisation should be used to introduce alcohol
consumption legalization in the same vein as the existing legalization for road traffic users.
After the Marchioness/Bowbelle disaster, the byelaw was expanded to its current form to
address public concern about persons navigating on the River Thames while under the influence of

1.5 Local Regulations

As the main reasons for the incident are alcohol consumption and speeding, there are some
byelaws that may be discussed.

1.5.1 Alcohol and drugs

Regarding alcohol use the River Byelaw 9 states:

The master of a vessel shall not navigate the vessel when unfit by reason of drink or drugs to
do so.
The master of a vessel shall not navigate, attempt to navigate or be in charge of a vessel after
consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath when tested records a reading of
35 microgrammes of alcohol or more in 100 millilitres of breath. The harbourmaster may permit a
vessel to proceed notwithstanding that the master is suspected of being unfit to navigate through
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drink or drugs, if the harbourmaster considers that satisfactory arrangements have been made to
replace the said master and to ensure safe navigation.
A vessel shall remain in the position designated until such time as either a substitute master
is on board and takes command of the vessel or the master suspected of having alcohol in his body
submits to a breath test on equipment provided by the harbor master and approved by the Secretary
of State for the purpose of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the said breath test indicates a reading of
less than 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 milliliters of breath.
The Port of London Authority has initiated 5 successful prosecutions in the last 12 years,
following alcohol-related accidents. Of these, two were, inter alia, against River Byelaw 9.
Notwithstanding these successful prosecutions, the PLA has received legal advice that River Byelaw
9 is not an effective and robust piece of legislation. There were several updates regarding alcohol
consumption (Table 1.5).

Table 1.5 Alcohol limits legislation timeline

1989 Marchioness/ Bowbelle disaster.
1991 MAIB report on Marchioness/ Bowbelle collision published.
1992 July Hayes Report – recommendation for breath tests for seafarers on all vessels.
1999 Thames Safety Inquiry Interim Report published, included a recommendation for the
December control of alcohol for people in charge of vessels.
2000 The responsible department informs official inquiry of proposed legalization that
November includes the prevention of alcohol abuse aboard vessels including those on
recreational craft underway, who have an essential role in its navigation or propulsion.
2000 Queen’s Speech announces new safety bill.
2001 Formal Investigation report on the Marchioness/ Bowbelle, found that there was a
March need for alcohol legalization to be enforced for all vessels.
Indeed, the first recommendation made in the report was for alcohol, drugs and
fatigue and provided that:
We endorse the proposed legalisation18 and recommend that it be enacted as soon as
2004 RATS (Commencement no2) Order 2004 imposes alcohol limits on professional
2004 Consultation launched by the government to determine whether any exceptions to
RATS subsection 80 (3) should be in place
2007 June Government announced its formal intention to proceed with the enactment of RATS
section 80 and to draft regulations for a limited exception from the prescribed alcohol
limits for non-professional mariners on vessels of less than 7 meters and not capable
of a maximum speed of 7 knots.
2009 Further public consultation inviting views on the draft for the exemption.
2009 May End of public consultation
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2011 June Secretary of State for Transport advises “no timetable” for the enactment of RATS
section 80.
2012 April Amended alcohol limits for professional mariners due to be introduced
or October
TBC Enactment of section 80

1.5.2 Speed limits

River Byelaw 48 imposes an 8 knot speed limit on the River Thames above Wandsworth
Bridge, the creeks that are linked to the tidal section of the River Thames, and the area off Southend.
The section of the Thames from Wandsworth Bridge to Cherry Garden Pier has an advisory speed
limit of 12 knots. The authority’s decision to recommend a speed limit of 12 knots in this area was
made following careful consideration of several factors, including the navigable water available,
reaction times, navigational hazards, and vessel types.