It has emerged that the French- built ship was passed as safe by the Department of Trade and Industry just two weeks before the fatal accident. Denis Murphy, chairman of the Cork-based Swansea- Cork Ferries, operators of the vessel on lease from its Polish owners, confirmed the ship had been cleared last month after a regular test by the DTI.
A growing number of passengers have said they raised sewage gas leaks with both the Celtic Pride's crew and police in Ireland as far back as Easter last year. Because of this, the children's father Garry Tomlins has questioned the Irish official inspector's statement that the accident was the result of 'a one in a million chance'.
He says other passengers told him they had complained about the powerful sewage smell three and a half hours before the bodies of Catherine and James Tomlins were discovered.
The accident has set off a political row over the competence of the Irish Department of the Marine. Cork TD (MP) Joe Sherlock has questioned the wisdom of allowing the ship to return to sea 24 hours after the accident when only temporary safety measures had been taken. He said it was 'extraordinary' that the department had not insisted on the full modifications being carried out before it returned to sea.
Captain Francis Boyer, an Irish marine design expert, said the hourly crew inspections now being carried out on the ship were 'impractical' as he doubted if they could enter and check every passenger's cabin hourly throughout the night.
But Capt Boyer said it was possible to make the 'gravity sewage' systems, common in older ships, safe from gas leakage into cabins by the addition of extra and bigger vents from the main collection tanks, and by more regular monitoring of gauges and emptying of the secondary collection tanks from which waste is discharged into the sea. Adding duplicate vents would guard against a single one becoming blocked by dead seabirds, hair and other material.
The Celtic Pride is being withdrawn from service tomorrow for modifications to its sewage systems recommended by British, Irish and Polish surveyors, and is expected to resume sailings from Swansea on Friday.