Passenger warned ferry officer over 'noxious gas leak'

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The Independent Online
A CONSULTANT engineer claims that he alerted an officer on the Swansea-Cork ferry Celtic Pride last month of a leakage of lethal hydrogen sulphide gas into a cabin, and warned it should be remedied without delay.

Two children died on board the ship last week when they were suffocated by hydrogen sulphide from the ship's sewage system. The gas filled their cabin on C deck after the water seal in their lavatory was displaced.

The day after the tragedy the ship's operators, Swansea Cork Ferries, insisted that before the accident they had only received complaints of unpleasant smells.

But in a letter to Michael Woods, the Irish Minister for the Marine, Tom Hancock, a consultant engineer from Bedford, said he was crossing from Swansea to Cork on the Celtic Pride on the night of 22-23 July when he was woken at about 3.30am by a foul smell. The door to his cabin lavatory was closed and on opening it he said he was unable to enter 'because of the great concentration of gas which I knew to be hydrogen sulphide'.

He alerted an officer at the purser's desk. 'I impressed strongly on the official that the gas was hydrogen sulphide and possibly lethal,' Mr Hancock said in a letter yesterday to the Irish Times.

He claimed the officer had flushed the lavatory and said 'the air will clear in a minute', assuring him there was no danger. Mr Hancock said he had not made a written complaint because the smell had been so powerful he assumed the captain would have been notified immediately.

Swansea Cork Ferries said that it could not comment on individual cases until the Irish Department of the Marine's inquiry into the tragedy was completed.

In his letter, Mr Hancock said he 'could probably recognise' the officer he warned. He is one of a number of former passengers who have claimed they reported gas smells to crew.

Mr Hancock said that from his training 'and from simple school science' he was in no doubt that the gas in his cabin was hydrogen sulphide. Post-mortem examinations on Catherine Tomlins 15, and her brother James, 12, showed that they died from inhaling the same gas. Their father, Garry Tomlins, a British computer company executive now living in Co Cork, says he has a list of former passengers prepared to testify that they smelt the gas.

He said in the Irish Times that he believed his children's deaths could have been avoided if the Dublin government had enforced 'professional standards of care for passengers'. He also called for a European safety standard for all ships operating out of EC ports.

Early findings by the official investigator into the accident, Seamus McLoughlin, suggest the ventilation problems which led to the gas build up and leakages into cabins had been present since construction in France 20 years ago.

Later yesterday, Swansea-Cork Ferries announced that the Celtic Pride would resume service last night but the 95 cabins on C deck would not be used. It said that all modifications specified by marine authorities had been implemented and successfully tested in port but that further testing would take place in a seaway.