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Milford Haven: New pilot boats ‘not fit for purpose’ [UPDATED]

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A MULTI-MILLION pound project to replace the pilot vessels at The Port of Milford Haven, Britain’s largest energy port, has run into trouble – after the three boats were deemed ‘unfit for purpose’ by some crew members.

The brand new vessels, which were built in Pembrokeshire by Mainstay Marine Solutions at a cost £3.6m, have been involved in incidents which have questioned the operational safety of the craft.

St Brides, the first of the 19m pilot boats, was delivered to the Port of Milford Haven on March 24, 2016.

When launched the boat was lauded by the Port of Milford Haven as being capable of reaching up to 14 knots (16.1 mph) with 12 persons on board.

The crafts are designed to be used extensively in heavy weather and are likely to operate in swells up to 5m in wave height.

According to the Port, the boats are able to withstand the impact of coming alongside large tankers in turbulent sea conditions, and provide a safe platform when transferring pilots to and from ships visiting the various terminals along the Milford Haven Waterway.

The three new vessels were intended to replace the Port’s ageing fleet of four: the ‘Skomer’ and ‘Picton’ which were delivered in 2007 and 2009 respectively in readiness for the arrival of LNG, the ‘Portunus’, and the Port’s oldest vessel the ‘Hakin’, which has been operating on the Haven since the early 1980s.

But incidents which have taken place in the last year have led to two of the new vessels being tied up in Milford Haven Docks on an ‘operational pause’ whist the Port keeps some of its remaining ageing vessels in operation.

Two of the old pilot boats, due to have been replaced, the Picton and the Skomer, were identified as being operational this week on vesselfinder.com

Tied up: Expensive new Pilot boats in ‘operational pause’

‘NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE’

A source close to the Port told The Pembrokeshire Herald, on condition of anonymity, that it was not long after the first boat, St Brides, was delivered that coxswains reported handling difficulties with the vessel.

“A cursory check over initially gave that vessel the all clear,” our contact explained.

“However, in July 2016, soon after the second vessel, the St Davids, was commissioned there was a serious accident in which the boat t-boned a gas tanker resulting in her front being crushed in by two feet.

“It’s been widely reported that she was at sea delivering pilots to the LNG carrier The Lijmiliya when it made hard contact with the ship.

“These boats were rushed out, are currently not fit for service.”

A Port press release at the time reads: “The impact was such that it resulted in three of the five Port of Milford Haven crew members who were on board at the time suffering injuries which were minor in nature but required hospital attention. All three are now recovering at home.

Our source told The Herald: “Two of the crew members who were injured were not able to return to active duty and no longer work for the Port Authority. It is my understanding that they are currently pursuing claims with the help of the union against their former employer.

“The severity of the LNG tanker incident was played down and, in my view, even covered over. One of the men badly smashed his arm; and an incident which shortened a vessel by 2 feet involving an LNG tanker is a serious one.”

“Have these crew members been hung out to dry with no money for their injuries only sick pay and whatever pension they have already earned.”

A SECOND SOURCE SPEAKS OUT

The claims made by our anonymous source were backed up by another employee of the Port of Milford Haven, who is currently a crew member on the pilot vessels.

He said that he believes that he and others working on the boat would never have faith in these new vessels, which have been rushed out and are underpowered.

There was no Marine Accident Investigation Branch probe into the incident in 2016 involving the LNG carrier. The Port, our source said, was allowed ‘to do its own internal investigation, which in my mind was not thorough enough, and tossed aside the facts’.

He continued: “I also know about a second incident, which was a near miss, involving another of the new boats, the St Govans.

“The vessel was underway when it was involved in a non-contact near miss with an oil tanker.

“When I say near miss, I mean near miss. The St Govans was just metres away from the tanker and those involved were severely shaken up.”

Marine Accident Investigation Branch spokesperson said: “The St David incident was reported to us and we made enquiries, but did not conduct a full investigation. We receive between 1500 and 1800 reports of accidents of all types and severity each year. On average this leads to 30 separate investigations being launched.”

Assistant Harbourmaster John Warneford was on-board the pilot boat at the time.

Our source also told us: “The management of the Port Authority were told on many occasions that the specifications of the new vessels were not up to par. The main problem being that they are so underpowered, they are unsafe to use in high seas.

“We were also concerned about the fendering system. A previous problem with de-misters has been partially solved, with cold blowing de-misters being retrofitted.

“These are boats on the cheap, it’s about cutting corners, saving money, and bonuses for top management.”

PORT COMMENTS

Alec Don, Chief Executive at the Port of Milford Haven, told The Herald: “Our pilot boats perform some of the most challenging operations within the Port limits, transferring our pilots on and off ships that visit the UK’s biggest energy port throughout the year.

“The safety of our launch crews and of the pilots they carry is our principle concern. While all our launches are operational, the new ‘Saints Class’ are still operating under some restrictions. This is primarily while we evaluate handling characteristics, iron out any remaining snagging issues and fully understand the root cause of apparent performance differences to the satisfaction of both our marine department and the manufacturers.

“In parallel with this work we are taking the opportunity to review our operational procedures to ensure all avenues are exhaustively explored and addressed.”

VIDEO:

This video, made by the Port Authority and shared on Vimeo, demonstrates the challenges facing pilots, launches and their crews in high seas, and the importance of having sufficiently powered vessels.

British Robin departure from Milford Haven (Video Only) from Port of Milford Haven on Vimeo.

News

Heatherton expansion approved

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• Committee overturns officers’ objections

• Economic benefits outweigh other impacts

Conditions must not delay development

THE COUNCIL’s Planning Committee voted to approve plans to extend holiday accommodation at Heatherton at its meeting on Tuesday (June 15).

Officers recommended refusal of the plans.

During their discussions, the Committee’s members noted the reasons for refusal detailed by the planning report. They concluded, however, with appropriate conditions in place, the economic benefits of the development outweighed the bases outlined for refusal.

Addressing the meeting, the applicant, Charlie Davies, told Committee members that the changing holiday market meant Heatherton and the area around it would miss out on opportunities to meet the demand for holidays in Pembrokeshire. He added that the planned expansion – to include a further twenty holiday lodges – would secure year-round jobs at Heatherton and have a positive impact on the local rural economy.

Mr Davies said the existing lodge development, approved by the authority seven years ago, improved the viability of Heatherton as an enterprise and would further strengthen the business’ finances.

Officers objected to the plans because they said the development would be outside settlement boundaries and run contrary to environmental policy. 

The report, presented by the Head of Planning David Popplewell, set out a series of concerns regarding the lodges’ visual impact, a lack of screening, and the lack of detail about landscaping plans and construction controls during development.

However, addressing the Committee as one of the local members whose Ward would be affected by the development, Cllr Phil Kidney said St Florence Community Council vigorously supported the application as being of direct benefit to businesses in the village. 

He pointed out that the economic benefits were not only Tenby centric but affected businesses elsewhere in the County.

Phil Kidney told the Committee his visit to a laundry in Pembroke Dock, by chance, revealed that laundry he delivered would be delayed because of laundry being done for the accommodation already on site. 

Cllr Kidney added that, bearing in mind the current furore over second homes, the provision of holiday accommodation on sites such as Heatherton could reduce the demands on local housing and open-up opportunities for local people to live locally.

He fully endorsed the proposal and said he could see no downside to permitting further expansion of a business that delivered jobs to local people, especially young people entering the jobs market for the first time.

Cllr Jonathan Preston agreed with Cllr. Kidney. 

He observed that the regulations regarding what constituted ‘a caravan’ were out of date and out of touch with reality. 

Although the proposed lodges were technically caravans; they were a world away from what most people would expect a caravan to look like and beyond the vision that informed the current rules regarding the term.

Cllr Mark Carter said the problems identified in the planning report could be addressed through the imposition of conditions on the development to offset them.

Mark Carter pointed out issues regarding the detail of landscaping works and lighting could be subject to conditions drafted by officers.

His opinion was warmly welcomed by both Cllrs David Pugh and Vice-Chair Tony Wilcox.

David Pugh said Heatherton was a successful business, employing local people and should be encouraged to continue to offer job opportunities for locals.

Tony Wilcox said Heatherton was one of the three main jewels in Pembrokeshire’s tourist crown. 

He noted the other two destinations – Folly Farm and Bluestone – both recently applied to extend their facilities, and he could see little or no difference between what Heatherton proposed and what officers were prepared to accept elsewhere.

Cllr Tim Evans developed Cllr Wilcox’s theme, observing that officers barely raised an eyebrow about a further eighty pieces of holiday accommodation at Bluestone, which he said had ‘whizzed through’. 

Subject to conditions being brought back to the Committee, he fully supported the application.

Cllr Jacob Williams, Chair of Planning, asked whether the proposed conditions would be back before the Committee for its next meeting in July. 

Having received an equivocal answer he moved that if the Committee approved the scheme, with the proposed planning conditions to offset officers’ objections must come before the Committee on July 27.

Cllr Pugh endorsed that approach by saying nobody wanted the proposal kicked into the long grass.

Councillors approved the plans unanimously by 14 votes to nil, and officers must prepare conditions to attach to the planning permission ahead of the Committee’s next meeting.

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News

Milford Haven: Christmas cosmetics thief caged

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A MIDLANDS shop lifter caught stealing £2200 worth of cosmetics and skin care products from Boots in Milford Haven just before Christmas, has been jailed.

Magistrates sitting at Haverfordwest Court on Tuesday (Jun 15) accepted a guilty plea from 53-year-old Ion-Gabriel Maimut of Perrott Street, Birmingham.

He was jailed for what the bench described as “offending so serious because the defendant has a flagrant disregard for people and their property.

“And because of the high degree of planning and the high value of the theft.

“And because the theft was aggravated by the defendant’s record of previous offending.”

Maiumut, bang-to-rights, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to a single theft of goods from Boots to the value of £2204.91 on December 4, 2020.

The court confirmed that the defendant’s guilty plea was considered when imposing sentence.

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Blue Gem Wind begins digital aerial surveys for 300MW Valorous floating wind project

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BLUE GEM WIND, the joint venture between TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and Simply Blue Energy, has begun offshore digital aerial surveys for a proposed 300MW floating wind project.

APEM Ltd have been chosen by Blue Gem Wind to deliver 24 consecutive monthly bird and marine mammal surveys of the early-commercial scale Valorous site. The high resolution data obtained will support baseline environmental characterisation of the site and environmental impact assessments for key ecological receptors.

The survey programme commenced in March 2021 and four of the 24 monthly surveys have been completed
to date.

Sean Evans, Environmental Specialist at Blue Gem Wind said, “It is important for us to begin long-lead in items
such as bird and marine mammal surveys as early as possible. These surveys will provide crucial species specific
data on the number, spatial distribution and activity of individuals across the Valorous site. This enables us to
undertake robust environmental impact assessments ahead of our planned consent application submission in
2023.”

Matt Rohner, Senior Consultant at APEM, “APEM Ltd are delighted to be able to support Blue Gem Wind’s
proposed Valorous offshore wind farm with our best-in-class survey design approach. Imagery captured using
state-of-the-art cameras is of ultra-high (1.6cm) resolution, providing industry leading image quality that is
essential for species level identification.”

The Celtic Sea is poised to play a key role in Net Zero, the Committee on Climate Change’s 100GW offshore
wind target, and crucially, the UK Government’s target of 1 GW of floating wind by 2030. The ORE Catapult also
estimated that the first GW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea could potentially deliver over 3,000 jobs and
£682m in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall by 2030.

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