Vessel master fined after smashing into Sheringham Shoal wind farm turbine and injuring passengers

19:08 02 September 2014

Sheringham Shoal wind farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Sheringham Shoal wind farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2012

The master of a vessel has been ordered to pay £3,000 after smashing into an off-shore wind turbine in the dark off Sheringham, injuring his passengers and badly damaging the boat.

A court heard that Geoffrey Whinfrey, master of the support vessel Island Panther, relied on turbine tower safety lights to steer a course through Sheringham Shoal wind farm and hit an unlit tower head-on in driving rain, gusting winds and rough seas.

Whinfrey and his fellow crewman were propelled forward and hit the control consul, while people below were flung across the passenger cabin.

Some of those on board had to be taken to hospital with minor injuries after the accident, on November 21 2012.

Whinfrey pleaded guilty to breaches of maritime collision regulations when he appeared at Southampton Magistrates’ Court today.

He had been asked by the wind farm operator - Scira Offshore Energy Ltd - to take off-duty employees ashore because of worsening weather conditions. The wind was gusting up to 45mph.

Passage plans had not been completed for any part of the journey. Whinfrey tried to navigate through the wind farm using the safety lights on the wind turbine towers, against company policy.

He failed to notice that one of the turbine towers’ lights was unlit and hit it at about 12 knots (14 mph).

An investigation determined that the accident happened because Whinfrey was relying solely on the safety lights and didn’t make good use of the lookout and navigation equipment on board.

The court fined him £1,000, plus £2,000 in costs.

At the time of the accident the EDP reported that five people on board the boat had suffered minor injuries.

Cromer’s offshore lifeboat, Lester, went to their aid, with a doctor on board.

One patient was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn with a head and wrist injury.

The four other casualties were assessed by the doctor and made their own way to the hospital.

Speaking after the court case, Capt Peter Maynard, MCA Surveyor based at the Norwich Marine Office, said: “Mr Whinfrey relied heavily on the lights of the turbine towers to navigate through the wind farm against company policy.

“He displayed poor seamanship by failing to keep a proper lookout by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances. It was very lucky that no one was seriously hurt.”

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