Tag Archives: VikingSplash


In June 2013 I reported on the sinking of a DUKW in Liverpool, the second of the year, and in September on the fire aboard a DUKW in London. Oddly enough, it seems that the two accidents had a common element: the foam added inside the hulls to improve buoyancy.

The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch has found that the DUKWs in the Liverpool fleet had not been fitted with enough foam to provide 110% buoyancy, enough to keep the vessel afloat when flooded. MAIB’s tests on the Liverpool vessels

… raised serious questions about whether the operators of DUKWs could fit sufficient foam internally to comply with the current requirement for 110% buoyancy without compromising the safe operation and the practical day to day maintenance of these vehicles.

The “safe operation” part affected the London vessels. In July 2013, a DUKW had to be towed in after a drive shaft universal coupling failed when it overheated and ran dry of lubrication: engine bay temperatures were too high because of the volume of foam inserted. And a report commissioned by the London Fire Brigade into the September fire concluded that:

… the most likely cause of fire was the action of the rotating drive shaft (or other moving parts) on the oil contaminated surfaces of the buoyancy foam blocks.

MAIB has issued a safety bulletin [four-page PDF] with this conclusion:

The MAIB identified significant difficulties in fitting a DUKW with the volume of foam required to meet the buoyancy standards set out in MSN 1699 (M). Further, the nature of these old amphibious vessels, specifically their weight in relation to their size and the complexity of their propulsion arrangements, makes it difficult for operators to comply with the standards applicable to more conventional craft by solely using internal foam buoyancy. An alternative standard, ensuring that DUKWs have the necessary level of damage survivability, therefore needs to be established if they are to be operated safely.

It has recommended that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency should

… ensure that the means used by DUKW operators to achieve the required standard of buoyancy and stability for their vessels does not adversely impact on their safe operation. Furthermore, these vessels should not be permitted to operate until satisfactory levels of safety can be assured under all feasible operating conditions.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s website doesn’t seem to be working, but there is a BBC report here quoting an MCA person as saying

We will not be permitting the vessels to operate until we are satisfied that the necessary safety measures have been achieved.

VikingSplash DUKW in Dublin

VikingSplash DUKW in Dublin

All of this may help to explain why the VikingSplash DUKWs operating in Dublin are fitted with additional external buoyancy.

Elfinsafety and DUKWs

In October 2011 I was in Liverpool, where I took a couple of photos of DUKWs taking trippers around the still waters of the no-longer-used docks.

DUKW in the Salthouse Dock, Liverpool

DUKW in the Salthouse Dock, Liverpool

DUKWing under the bridge into the Albert Dock, Liverpool

DUKWing under the bridge into the Albert Dock, Liverpool

In Dublin, Viking Splash offers similar tours, with the regrettable addition of horned helmets, as not worn by Vikings. The Dublin operation seems to have added two other items that were not discernible on the Liverpool DUKW.

VikingSplash DUKW Thor 18_resize

Extra buoyancy on the Dublin DUKWs

First, before they enter the water at Grand Canal Dock, Ringsend, the DUKWs are fitted with extra buoyancy in cylinders that slide into racks along their sides. I saw the VikingSplash crew removing the cylinders from the yellow DUKW; it took only a couple of minutes, and I presume that it didn’t take much longer to put the cylinders on.

VikingSplash DUKW Thor 25_resize

Buoyancy aids being collected after the trip around the dock

Second, the Dublin passengers are issued with buoyancy aids before they take to the water. I can’t see any buoyancy aids on the Liverpool passengers, although it’s possible that they are out of camera shot.

Sometimes we complain about extra health and safety (which often means insurance) requirements. Then something like this happens: a yellow DUKW sank yesterday in Liverpool — for the second time this year. I don’t know whether the precautions taken in Dublin would have averted the accident or enhanced the safety of the passengers but it does suggest that the Maritime Safety Directorate bods in Dublin do have a point.

Addendum: the speaker on this clip says that passengers began putting on buoyancy aids, which suggests that aids were issued but not worn. Given how quickly the vessel sank, and how constricted the space inside is, it seems to me that passengers should wear their buoyancy aids throughout the waterborne trip.

Later: scary video.

Later still: a BBC story saying that a tyre may have caused the problem, the Liverpool mayor’s opinion (and some good photos) and the firm going into administration.