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Ramsgate design lessons in limbo

THE UK'S WORST civil engineering tragedy of the decade - the fatal collapse of the ship to shore walkway at Ramsgate in 1994 - could be repeated at any time because of the government's failure to provide funding for an urgently needed design code.

Institution of Civil Engineers president David Green wrote to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott six months ago demanding action, but has yet to receive anything more than an acknowledgement.

The fact that the lessons of the Ramsgate collapse have not been incorporated in new design guidance three years after the event has led senior maritime engineers to fear that dozens of similar accidents could be waiting to happen.

Donald Evans, a member of the British Standards Institute drafting committee for maritime codes, this week warned that without specific regulation governing the design and checking of such ship to shore structures, dozens of walkways now in service may be suspect.

'We have already had 11 other serious collapses apart from Ramsgate in recent times. Thankfully no-one was hurt in these cases,' said Evans. 'If there was another fatal collapse tomorrow, the public would ask why was nothing done [to prevent a repeat of the Ramsgate collapse]. We would have to reply that the government declined to give funding for the research'.

It is thought that £50,000 to £100,000 would be needed to produce a draft standard.

The difficulty in securing funding for the new code is compounded by confusion over which government office is responsible. Responsibility has been bounced around within the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Transport section initially said it was the duty of Environment, who passed the buck to Health and Safety, which in turn sought to place responsibility back with Transport.

As a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers' Council and Maritime Board until last November, Evans sought help from the ICE to lobby government for funding. Then ICE president Green lent his weight to the campaign by writing to Prescott at the DETR last summer.

A few months later, Green received a reply telling him to write to health and safety minister Angela Eagle. This he did in November, but to date he has received just a holding reply from her office stating that they were considering his request for a meeting and would 'give a response very shortly'.

The Ramsgate collapse happened in September 1994 and highlighted the lack of design standards for ship to shore structures, which are usually bespoke designs with little standardisation.

Six people were killed and seven injured when a section of the structure collapsed without warning as passengers boarded a ferry. The Health & Safety Executive successfully prosecuted the firms involved in the Old Bailey last March, with unprecedented fines totalling £1.7M levied on the Swedish design and construction companies, the checking engineer Lloyds Register of Shipping and the client Port Ramsgate.

Evans and the other BSI committee members are demanding that the maritime code BS6349 be extended to cover roll-on roll-off ramps and walkways. Although BS6349's seven parts cover the design of port structures such as jetties and quays, there is no specific reference to the type of walkways which collapsed at Ramsgate.

CIRIA, in conjunction with the Port Safety Organisation and industry, is now developing guidance on the procurement of such structures, but according to Evans this will only go part of the way.

'They will probably deal with the operation and maintenance of structures but will not cover their concept and structural design,' said Evans. 'And even then it will only be guidance not a standard.'

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