In a disaster that should never have happened, the failures that took place on MV Betelgeuse and at the Oil Terminal at Whiddy Island, were some of the worst derelictions of duty in relation to safety in world maritime history, by the tanker owners, Total Oil S.A, the terminal operators, Gulf Oil Corporation, the Irish government, and other world governments.

The Whiddy Island disaster is the leading example of why doing nothing is never a good idea regarding safety. While international regulation agreed by world experts including Ireland at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) fails to be ratified, putting innocent lives are at risk, is not good enough.

Action required

So the 40th Anniversary is a stark reminder of why it is so important to act, not just in Ireland, but internationally, as the world’s maritime community leaders descend on Bantry.

Simple inert gas systems for oil tankers, to prevent explosion were agreed by world delegations and industry experts in 1974 when the IMO adopted SOLAS 1974. Systems were not carried on board MV Betelgeuse however because the Convention had not then been ratified by enough national legislatures. In the absence of regulation, best practice in industry was not applied.

Failure to ratify SOLAS 1974 was compounded by the terrible safety regime that resulted in all personnel waiting for almost 30 minutes to die with no fire equipment and no safety boat present.

Following the Whiddy Island disaster, Ireland ratified SOLAS 1974 and consequently the world brought it into force.

The families take solace in the fact that such a positive difference has evolved out of a tragedy that continues to have a profound impact on improving regulation today, and many lives have been protected.

Working first-hand in international maritime regulation, as a Special Advisor to the Arctic Council, having carried out reviews into international regulation with Lloyd’s of London following the Deep Water Horizon and Costa Concordia disasters, and working on the finalisation of the hugely important Polar Code for world shipping at the IMO, I cannot emphasise enough the impact and importance of lessons learned from the Whiddy Island Disaster and the deaths of those who died and the positive change that it has led to.

We have developed a forum and web portal for education and the implementation of the regulation, which I have presented with Norway, Denmark, and Finland on behalf of the eight Arctic States and at the request of the IMO to the rest of the world as an example of how to implement regulation elsewhere.

This would not have happened was it not due to the death of my father and those he died with, and it is a development that Ireland should note.

In acknowledgement, the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland along with other leaders will be in Bantry for the Commemoration, January 8.

It is extremely important to acknowledge these lives and to highlight the importance of always adhering to best practice in the absence of regulation (throughout all industry sectors) and to implement agreed IMO standards in our jurisdiction — to protect our seafarers and our environment, including our rescue services so that they do not have to be called out unnecessarily.



Michael Kingston