Inquiry under way after 24 injured in Waverley crash

The damage to the bow of the boat can clearly be seen. Photo Colin Smeeton

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A major investigation is under way into how the Waverley paddle steamer crashed into Brodick pier last Thursday injuring 24 passengers.

Investigators from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch have been on Arran to assess the damage to the 70-year-old vessel, which remains tied up a Brodick pier and could be there for some time.

Owner Waverley Excursions Ltd has already announced there will be no further sailings this year after the world’s oldest paddle steamer came back into service just two weeks ago following a £2.3 million boiler refit.

There were a number of Arran people on the boat, including a number of Waverley supporters, when the accident happened as they were returning from an afternoon trip to Pladda and round Holy Isle.

What should have been a routine docking turned into a full-scale emergency. Passengers on board said the boat appeared to be approaching the berth too fast and there was a heavy jolt when she struck the pier, with the impact knocking people over like skittles.

One theory, which the Arran Banner understands is being looked into, is that the captain was unable to get the paddles into reverse which is required to slow the boat down.

There had been a lot of people standing on the deck ready to disembark and this is thought to have made the situation worse when heavy contact was made with the pier.

Of the 24 injured at least six were airlifted off the island, with other casualties taken to the Arran War Memorial Hospital in a fleet of ambulances as those described as ‘walking wounded’ were treated at the scene.

However, there has been frustration this week as neither the police, the health authorities, the Marine and Coastguard Agency or the Waverley owners have been willing to give any update on the condition of any of the injured passengers.

In the only statement issued, Professor Hazel Borland, nurse director at NHS Ayrshire and Arran stated a week ago: ‘A small number of patients were transferred to Arran War Memorial Hospital and University Hospital Crosshouse to receive treatment for a range of injuries with the majority now being discharged.’

Police, paramedics and coastguards rushed to the scene after the alarm was raised around 5.15pm last Thursday. They were later joined by the fire brigade, the rescue helicopter from Prestwick, two Helimed and the Arran Mountain Rescue Team.

In all there were 213 passengers and 26 crew on board, with numbers much reduced due the social distancing required as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Waverley was making only her second visit to Brodick this year, and other passengers who had earlier got off at Brodick were waiting on the quayside to return to Largs and Greenock. They were accommodated in the ferry terminal and 138 Waverley passengers finally left Arran on an emergency sailing of the MV Caledonian Isles at 10.35pm after a five-hour wait.

One passenger who was at the front of the boat when it hit the pier said the passengers had ‘gone down like little dominoes’.

William Windram, from Melrose, who had been on holiday on Arran, was due to disembark in Brodick with his friends. He described a ‘terrific bang’ then the sound of crushing metal.

He said: ‘There was a lot of people standing ready to disembark. It looked like the boat was heading to the pier too fast then there was this terrific bang. I was with a group of friends and a couple of us were flung forward and hit the guard rail. My friend may have cracked a rib, but I could see others had fallen flat on the deck and I could see people were injured.’

He said there had been no warning announcement, as there had been earlier at Pladda, to hold on to something if standing on the deck. However, he said that following the crash the crew had been excellent as many of the passengers were shaken and shocked.

‘They provided teas and coffee, bags of ice to stop injuries swelling, and towels and blankets to those who needed them,’ he said.

Rita McLeod, who was waiting to board the Waverley, added: ‘It came in bow first. It came in far too fast. We saw a lot of people falling, a few people fell over. There were people taken away in ambulances. We saw a lot of people, pretty badly shaken, coming off.’

Waverley Excursions Ltd said in a statement: ‘Waverley made heavy contact while berthing at Brodick Pier on Thursday and will be unable to undertake any further sailings this season. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.’

As the passengers waited for news, the Arran community were already rallying to help. Preparations were being made to try and accommodate the passengers, who it was thought may be stranded on Arran overnight, both in hotels, guest houses and private homes. Offers of blankets and bedding were also being made, and food and provisions were provided at the ferry terminal and the hospital. However, the emergency sailing by the MV Caledoinan Isles meant all the passengers got back to the mainland.

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: ‘We were shocked to hear of the situation in Brodick harbour involving the Waverley, and my thoughts and best wishes are with those who were injured.

‘We were more than happy to help return passengers to the mainland and worked closely with agencies, including Waverley Excursions, who transported everyone onwards once they landed in Ardrossan.

‘I would like to extend my deep gratitude to the crew on the Caledonian Isles and at Brodick and Ardrossan for their willingness to help out. Without them this would not have been possible and their help in this case is one of many reasons why I am so proud of the CalMac team.’

Photographs by Colin Smeeton and Hugh Boag