Companies operating similar "roll-on, roll-off" (or Ro-Ro) ferries have not responded to efforts by the managers of the now privately owned company British Maritime Technology (BMT) to point out the design weaknesses of such craft. One consequence is that a modern test tank, with facilities to simulate ocean wave conditions, has been mothballed.
The speed with which the Herald of Free Enterprise turned over has brought to light the fact that BMT's specialists, following an investigation of the capsizing of another Ro-Ro ferry, had warned that it could happen again. BMT had suggested that the 1982 capsizing of the ferry European Gateway following a collision pointed to serious design weaknesses in such ships and had offered to mount a two-year research program.
David Goodridge, managing director of BMT, told a newspaper here that not one of 24 ferry operators had accepted his offer, made last November. When questioned, many operators denied knowledge of the offer; others replied that they could not afford the $15,000 each that BMT had requested.
British Maritime Technology was formed in 1985 by a merger of the National Maritime Institute and the British Ship Research Association. NMI was a government enterprise until 1982, when it was privatized; BSRA was a contract research association funded by the shipbuilding industry. The formation of BMT was a neat solution for a government bent on cutting public spending while fostering an "enterprise" culture. But the newly privatized body has found it hard to compete with other national research institutions funded largely by their governments.
Not Up to the Job
Goodridge took issue with Paffett over the test tank. He said the facility could not be operated commercially. It actually is about 20 years old, but was upgraded in 1985 to a level of sophistication more suitable for a government laboratory than for a commercial company. Goodridge also pointed out that the U.K. Ministry of Defense owns a similar facility in Portsmouth harbor that is underused. BMT is hoping to negotiate a deal so that military and civilian maritime researchers can share facilities and technologies. BMT also owns less sophisticated test tanks more appropriate for work on the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, he said.
What happens next will depend on the response of the ferry operators to a new offer of collaborative research by BMT. Goodridge said last month that BMT was drafting a plan for a more detailed and specific research project than the one rejected last year.