Ferry to be withdrawn for work on sewage unit

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The Independent Online
THE FERRY on which two children died after being overcome by toxic gases is to be taken out of service next week for urgent modifications to its sewage system, which official inspectors identified as the cause of the tragedy.

There was confusion yesterday after initial reports suggested the Department of Transport in Britain had forbidden the vessel, the Celtic Pride, to leave Swansea after its arrival there on Thursday.

It emerged later that a detention order imposed on the ship in Swansea by the department was to facilitate a 2 1/2-hour inspection by its officials and did not mean the vessel was to be detained further in the port.

The ferry will be taken out of service on Tuesday for three days to allow modifications, including the addition of new sewage pipes, to be carried out. The work will be done by a Liverpool engineering company.

The department's findings concurred with those made by the Irish Department of the Marine earlier this week, in identifying the displacement of the water seal in the lavatory, which allowed sewage gases to seep back into the children's cabin, as a key factor.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, confirmed he has issued new guidelines to ferry operators detailing the safety measures needed to avoid a repetition of the Celtic Pride tragedy.

Operators must check on-board sewage systems, and in particular all vents and seals linked to lavatories, showers and basins. Vents from the main storage tanks which collect sewage on board prior to its disposal are also to be inspected.

The Swansea-Cork Ferry Company, which operates the Celtic Pride on lease from its Polish owners, is continuing with scheduled services until Monday night's sailing from Swansea.

The vessel left Cork on Thursday with the cabin in which the two children died sealed off and cabin ventilation switched on permanently. The company has taken 95 cabins on the ship's C deck, where the deaths occurred, out of service. Its crew are operating hourly checks for gas leaks until the alterations are carried out.

Alan Shatter, Justice spokesman of the main Irish opposition party Fine Gael, yesterday urged a criminal investigation into events leading to the deaths on Wednesday. He said the circumstances surrounding the incident 'reeked of incompetence and neglect'.

Mr Shatter said there were questions about the adequacy of the investigation carried out by the Irish authorities. He said the Marine department needed to indicate what level of supervision of the ship it had applied in the past, and what reports had reached it about the Celtic Pride's sewage system.

Neither the Irish nor British transport authorities could say yesterday how many ferries operating in their waters had the same 'gravity sewage' systems as the Celtic Pride, as opposed to vacuum systems in those most recently built. The post-mortem examination in Cork into the deaths of Catherine Tomlins, 15, and her brother James, 12, showed the cause of the deaths was inhalation of hydrogen sulphide gas, which is generated in the ship's sewage system.

The children were buried yesterday after a funeral in their home village of Glounthaune, Co Cork, where their British parents moved some years ago. Their father, Gerry Tomlins, works in a computer plant at Youghal.

Mr Tomlins said yesterday he had been contacted by other passengers on Tuesday night's crossing from Swansea offering to give evidence that they had complained to crew about the sewage smell.

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