Former Woolwich ferry operators fined £200k over deckhand’s death

The woolwich ferry service runs between Newham and Greenwich. Picture: Ian West/PA Images

The woolwich ferry service runs between Newham and Greenwich. Picture: Ian West/PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The firm that used to run the Woolwich Ferry service has been fined £200,000 following the death of a teenage deckhand.

Ben Woollacott

Ben Woollacott - Credit: Archant

Ben Woollacott, 19, sustained severe head injuries and drowned when he was dragged overboard while untying the ship Ernest Bevin from a mooring buoy four years ago.

In the accident on August 3, 2011, Mr Woollacott, a sixth-generation Thames waterman from Swanley in Kent, was caught in a loop of rope and struck the buoy before entering the water.

He was quickly recovered by the ship’s boat with the aid of a Port of London Authority launch and taken to the south terminal of the ferry, but despite the efforts of paramedics he was declared dead at the scene.

Serco, who took on the contract to run the ferry between Woolwich and North Woolwich in 2008, was found guilty last Friday of a charge of failing to ensure the health and safety of the crew of the Ernest Bevin, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

The company was cleared of a second separate charge of failing to ensure the safe operation of the Ernest Bevin under Section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

On Wednesday, the company was fined the six-figure sum and told to pay costs of the same amount.

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Andrew Rudge, MCA area operations manager, said: “This was a tragic incident and our sympathy goes out to the family of Ben Woollacott.

“This case serves as a reminder that owners and operators of ships should review their procedures and risk assessments regularly, ensure they are fit for purpose and are being used correctly by their employees.”

Julia Warren, HR director for Serco’s transport, defence and justice business, said: “Ben Woollacott’s death in 2011 was a tragic accident which shocked and devastated all those who knew him.

“Our thoughts today are very much with his family, friends and the close-knit team at Woolwich ferry.”

She added: “Safety is our highest priority and we strive to put procedures in place to ensure that our people are protected.

“We are pleased that the judge recognised that overall Serco has a responsible attitude to health and safety and took its duties seriously. He acknowledged that Serco had made ‘genuine efforts’ to improve processes on the Woolwich ferry.”

Serco no longer operates the service as its contract with TfL ended as planned on March 31, 2013. The ferry is now operated by Briggs Marine and Environmental.