Edinburgh Leith docks incident: Cranes at work to right toppled ship after 35 injured

Investigation stil under way into cause of dry dock drama
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Two tall cranes appear to be at work in a bid to right the ship which tipped over in the dry dock at Leith last month, injuring 35 people.

An investigation is still going on into why the 3,000-tonne research vessel Petrel, which is owned by the US Navy, became dislodged from its holdings and ended up tilted at a dramatic 45-degree angle. The incident on March 22 saw a major response by the emergency services, with five ambulances, an air ambulance, three trauma teams, a special operations team and three paramedic response units called to the scene, along with fire and rescue crews. A total of 23 people were treated in hospital, with a further 12 receiving treatment at the scene. Casualties were taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the Western General Hospital and Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy.

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The Petrel, built in Romania in 2003, was previously owned by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who used it to search for historic shipwrecks. The US Navy bought it from Allen’s estate in September 2022 for £10 million, well below the market value.

Thirty-three people were injured when the RV Petrel tipped over while in dry dock at Leith.  Picture: Andrew O'Brien.Thirty-three people were injured when the RV Petrel tipped over while in dry dock at Leith.  Picture: Andrew O'Brien.
Thirty-three people were injured when the RV Petrel tipped over while in dry dock at Leith. Picture: Andrew O'Brien.

Dales Marine, who operate the dry dock at Leith, are not commenting on what is happening to get the ship upright. But one Twitter user posted a picture showing the cranes in place with the comment: “Two large red cranes now assembled in Leith Dry Dock to right the RV Petrel. At 250ft long and 3500 tonnes in weight it might take a while.”

The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation along with Police Scotland in the aftermath of the incident.

It is understood the vessel has been at Leith since September 2020 after sailing from Florida. Met Office data shows a wind speed of 38mph in Edinburgh at 8am on the day of the incident, half an hour before the ship toppled. Experts have said strong winds could be a factor, but were probably not the main cause of the ship becoming dislodged. Dr Iraklis Lazakis, a senior lecturer in the department of naval architecture, ocean and marine engineering at Strathclyde University, told BBC Scotland that such incidents were very unusual and "it might have been unlikely just to be tipped over by the wind".

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Dales Marine, an Aberdeen-based company, operates dry docks at five Scottish ports. It used a public relations firm to issue statements in the wake of the incident but the PR firm has now been told to refer all enquiries to the company itself – and it said it was not commenting. The last public statement issued by the PR firm, the day after the incident, said: “Dales Marine consider the welfare of those involved in the serious incident that occurred at the Port of Leith on March 22, 2023, as our highest priority. We are coordinating with all affected parties to ensure that all those who were on site at the time of the incident are contacted, and are provided with the support that they need. We are also working with the authorities to assist with their investigations. As this is an ongoing process, we cannot comment further.”