'Bowbelle' skipper told he can keep his captain's licence

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The Independent Online

Bereaved families and survivors reacted with fury to news that a captain involved in the 1989 Marchioness riverboat tragedy is to keep his British master's certificate.

Douglas Henderson was skipper of the dredger Bowbelle, which collided on the Thames with the Marchioness in an accident that claimed 51 lives.

Despite the strong public inquiry criticisms of Captain Henderson's actions that night, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency ruled yesterday that he was fit to continue holding a master's certificate.

And although it deplored the fact that he had admitted forging documents relating to his service on another vessel in 1985-86, the agency said these events had "no practical relevance on his current fitness".

Angry families emerged from a meeting with the agency's chief executive, Maurice Storey, to tell of their extreme disappointment at the decision.

"This is not justice," said Malcolm Williams, a survivor of the accident. "Captain Henderson has been judged for his present record rather than what happened 11 years ago."

Margaret Lockwood Croft, who lost her son Sean, 26, in the tragedy, said: "This has been a waste of time and public funds. The agency should have looked further back into Captain Henderson's record."

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had ordered the agency to look at Captain Henderson's fitness to hold a certificate after Lord Justice Clarke's report following the public inquiry into the tragedy was published in March.