In a shocking incident at a dry dock in Scotland, a 76 metre, 3,000 tonne vessel, has tipped over leaving 23 people needing hospital treatment, many having suffered serious trauma, with a further 12 being attended to at the scene with less threatening injuries.
The situation was declared a major incident after the research ship, Petrel, became dislodged from its moorings at Imperial Dock, Leith, in Edinburgh, following strong winds recorded at 38mph (61km/h), which had left the craft leaning at a 45-degree angle.
It is owned by the US Navy, and their Consulate in the Scottish capital said it was monitoring the situation and offering support to US citizens and their families who were involved.
HM coastguard sent teams from Fisherrow, South Queensferry and Kinghorn to the scene as part of the multi-agency response, with the Fire and Rescue Service sending four engines and a number of “specialist resources”. Police Scotland were coordinating affairs and immediately urged the general public to avoid the area, to initially allow access for emergency services and then to enable the authorities to conduct the necessary assessments, before then deciding how to proceed.
The dockyard, which is located in the north east of the city, has a maritime history which dates back hundreds of years and is now home to the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia. Dales Marine Services, which runs the dry dock offered no comment other than to state that they were liaising with emergency services.
High winds the cause
The previous night was exceptionally windy and it appears that there was a development around about 8.00am and emergency services were alerted. Dales Marine Services are just the tenants of the facility, it is actually owned by the privatised Forth Ports and their spokesperson said: “We are providing Dales with any support we can today, but we are unable to comment any further as the incident response is being led by the emergency services.”
Everyone accounted for
It is believed that about 50 refurbishment workers were on board and it is US citizens who were mainly involved. Superintendent Mark Rennie of Police Scotland confirmed that all casualties had been accounted for by 1.20pm and was able to reassure the wider public that there was no further risk. He said that inquiries would be ongoing to properly establish the full circumstances of what had happened. He made the point of thanking all the partner agencies that had responded so rapidly, highlighting the complex nature of the operation and praising the professionalism of all involved.
Huge ambulance service response
The ambulance service confirmed that they were called to a major incident at approximately 8.30am, and had sent 12 ambulances, an air ambulance, three trauma teams, three paramedic response units, and other specialist resources to the scene.
The National Health Service (NHS) in Lothian, which includes the Scottish capital in its jurisdiction, clarified that of the 23 patients that were taken away from the ship, 17 had been admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI); a further four had gone to the Western General Hospital (WGH) in the city; and two others were taken to the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, Fife.
The 12 people who were injured but treated at the scene, were all believed to have suffered only minor injuries and were able to be discharged.
Hospitals cancelling appointments to tend to the seriously injured
The NHS also urged people to avoid the emergency room at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, to accommodate the injured. They put out a statement that advised those individuals that were requiring urgent care and who had intended to attend the hospital, should contact their general practitioner, or call a 24 hour help line. They cancelled outpatient appointment to allow staff to concentrate on those coming into their care from the dock.
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services for NHS Lothian, said: “Our staff are working tirelessly to ensure patients get the best care and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this incident.”
Witness describes shocking event
A scaffold foreman working close to the incident at the Leith site said he heard a loud noise, but when seeing the aftermath 39-year-old James Welsh added: “It was not as noisy as you would have thought, judging by how the ship has ended up.” He went on to explain how one worker, who he said he sees every morning, had put his bag down to simply “nip to the toilet”, and when he came back, the ship had toppled and it was clear that he didn’t know where his work mates were.
“It is very scary and just makes you evaluate everything,” Mr Welsh remarked, before making the point: “No one goes to work to be involved in any kind of accident; we all want to go home for our mince and tatties, to our wife and kids, so I feel for anyone who is injured, and their family.”
Chaplain offering support
Sailors’ Society Chaplain Pauline Robertson explained how she had been listening to port staff who had witnessed the incident, or were now having to deal with the aftermath. “There is shock, horror, pain, just about every emotion you can imagine is being shown by staff at the tragedy that just unfolded in front of us,” was Ms Robertson’s immediate response to being asked her thoughts. Adding that there is complete disbelief that such an incident had or indeed could happen, before confirming that the Society would be supporting all the people affected by the incident.
She said many of the walking wounded were especially in shock when they considered how lucky they were to get off the vessel, when many of their colleagues were not so fortunate and had suffered more serious injuries.
Councillor tweets his concern
Leith councillor Adam McVey described the incident as “terrifying” for all of those on board the vessel. He tweeted: “Emergency services are responding to a major incident at Leith docks after a ship has been dislodged from its holding in strong winds.” He continued to say his thoughts were with those who were injured in the terrifying incident, before saying: “I hope everyone recovers quickly.”
Previously a deep submergence vessel
The ship itself has been owned by the United States Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center since October 2022. It was previously owned by the estate of the late Microsoft co-founder and billionaire, Paul Allen. He had converted it into a deep submergence research vessel in 2017 and it was one of the few ships worldwide equipped to explore 6,000m (19,685ft) below the ocean’s surface.
It featured an autonomous underwater vehicle, which was capable of reaching extreme depths, a remotely-operated vehicle for use once targets were identified, along with a multi-beam echo-sounder. It was used for deep water searches for shipwrecks and war graves at sea, including the lost World War Two heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, which was discovered 18,000 feet (5.5km) beneath the surface.
Billionaire committed to research
Mr Allen, who was an American business magnate, computer programmer, researcher, investor, and philanthropist, died in October 2018 at the age of 65. He had pledged to commit most of his enormous fortune to philanthropy and non-profit scientific research. However, the Petrel was placed into long-term “moorage” in 2020, as a direct result of what were described as “operation challenges” during the Covid-19 pandemic, and sadly had not been used since then.