STEAM Packet chief executive Mark Woodward has apologised after bikes were damaged on board the Ben My Chree.
Some bikes broke away from their lashing points after the Ben retracted its stabilisers, following a rough crossing, in preparation for entering Douglas Harbour on Monday evening.
But Mr Woodward refuted claims staff did not deal adequately with the incident and that there was an unacceptable fire risk.
The claims were made by John Butler, a passenger on the Heysham sailing, who said he first became aware of the incident when he entered the vehicle deck and noticed ‘a strong smell of spilt fuel’.
‘I then discovered that at least six motorbikes were piled on top of each other and this was clearly where the fuel was spilling on to the vehicle deck,’ said Mr Butler. ‘No Steam Packet staff were present and it seems that the bike riders themselves were expected to sort out the mess, I did notice at least three Steam Packet staff walk quickly past the incident making no effort to become involved. I also noted that a number of passengers and bikers were trying to encourage the staff to be involved. Eventually I understand that staff did attend the incident.
‘I would have expected a fire team to be immediately dispatched to the incident, as there was a very high risk of fire, which could have affected hundreds of passengers and crew. This is Steam Packet and as noted, none of the necessary safety procedure took place; no one was immediately available to assist and support the distressed bikers.’ He called for an independent inquiry.
Mr Woodward responded, saying Mr Butler had ‘not attempted to first obtain the full facts’. He said the vehicle deck was constantly patrolled while the vessel is at sea and if it had happened then it would have been dealt with immediately. However crew have specific duties on arrival, he said, so those would have had to be discharged first before the fallen bikes could be dealt with.
‘As regards fire risk, there is a comprehensive fire detection system and a water sprinkler/drencher system that automatically operates if a fire is detected and is designed to control an incident until a fire party arrives,’ said Mr Woodward, who added the Ben’s Chief Officer spent several hours dealing with the affected bikers, once he had ensured ventilation was maximised and other passengers’ vehicles were off the ship.
‘We carry in excess of 13,000 bikes a year with very little damage or incident.
‘Clearly weather here was a major factor and it is regrettable that any visitors’ bikes were damaged. Our assessor will inspect and agree appropriate repairs with all those owners whose bikes have been damaged. On behalf of the company I apologise to those owners and hope they will enjoy the remainder of their visit.’