Inquiry into accident aboard ‘Boaty McBoatface’ off Mull

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Investigators have launched a probe into an accident aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough, the royal research ship named Boaty McBoatface by a public poll, off the coast of Mull earlier this year.

Crew members sustained injuries during a drill in Loch Buie, when a lifeboat they were in rolled on its side, and then fell overboard.

The incident, which occurred during trials in early March, is still the subject of an investigation by the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch (MAIB), a UK government organisation which investigates all maritime accidents in UK waters.

The £200 million, 423ft, 15,000t flagship, described as ‘one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world’, became famous in 2016 when its owners, a UK government agency called the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), launched an online poll to give it a name.

By far the most popular out of the 32,000 entries was Boaty McBoatface, gaining 124,109 votes – 33 per cent of the total vote. However, the NERC chose another popular entry in a review of all the suggested names, the RSS Sir David Attenborough, marking the legendary broadcaster’s 90th birthday in 2019. One of its robotic submarines was named Boaty McBoatface instead.

The ship’s operator, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), explains on its website: ‘RRS Sir David Attenborough was handed over to NERC and BAS by shipbuilder Cammell Laird on 27 November 2020. The ship is expected to commence polar operations in 2021 after a period of intensive mariner training, testing and trialling the many technical, scientific and operational features and capabilities.’

Earlier this year in February, the ship spent two weeks conducting trials around the Irish Sea, the West Coast of Scotland, and the Celtic Sea, when it was photographed by a reader passing through the Sound of Mull.

It returned the following month, when a spokesperson for the RSS Sir David Attenborough told The Oban Times on March 4 that the vessel was ‘spending the next few days around the Isle of Mull for further trials and crew training’.

The next day on March 5, 2021, the MAIB details an accident occurring on board the RRS Sir David Attenborough. The incident is described in the MAIB’s online list of ongoing investigations: ‘Injuries to crewmembers inside a lifeboat that rolled onto its side then fell overboard during a launching drill on a research vessel in Loch Buie, Scotland.’

The RRS Sir David Attenborough, owned by the Natural Environment Research Council and operated by British Antarctic Survey, during seagoing trials off Mull earlier this year.