A PASSENGER ferry that crashed into a Hampshire pier had been involved in two previous collisions, according to a report out today.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has carried out an investigation into an incident involving the Uriah Heep, which hit Hythe Pier after its propulsion system failed.

The MAIB report says the vessel was involved in an identical collision at Town Quay, Southampton, a year earlier.

It also reveals that in 1999 the craft crashed into a berth on the River Thames, where it operated before becoming one of vessels on the ferry service between Southampton and Hythe.   

The ferry had 15 passengers and three crew on board when it crashed into Hythe Pier on May 13 last year.

The report says: "The ferry became wedged under the pier and its wheelhouse was demolished, but there were no serious injuries and there was no pollution.

"The collision resulted from a loss of control of the ferry’s water jet propulsion.

"The cause of the loss of propulsion control could not be identified but it was almost certainly due to a mechanical failure within the system’s hydraulic circuit.

"Following the accident, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) withdrew Uriah Heep’s passenger safety certificate and the ferry was sold by its operator, White Horse Ferries Ltd."

The report says the jet-propelled trimaran was about to complete its crossing from Town Quay to Hythe when the accident happened.

As the vessel approached the pontoon at the end of the pier the skipper attempted to put the propulsion system into reverse but the ferry accelerated instead.

The report says: "Seconds later Uriah Heep’s wheelhouse struck the underside of Hythe Pier. The impact shattered the wheelhouse’s glass windows and pushed its roof and canopy on to the top of the passenger cabin.

"The ferry came to rest wedged under the pier.

"The mate checked the wellbeing of the passengers, none of whom was injured, and then helped the skipper, who had suffered minor cuts and abrasions and was crawling out from beneath the wheelhouse debris.

"The mate also told the passengers to don lifejackets and remain seated until assistance arrived.

"The port services launch Joker was first on the scene and was used to transfer the passengers and crew to the pontoon."

"During the morning of May 13 Uriah Heep’s skipper reported that the starboard joystick controller had been stiff to move. However, the problem was no longer evident after a shore engineer had dismantled and re-assembled the controller mechanism.

"However, no defects with the propulsion control or hydraulic systems were found during tests following the accident.

"Without propulsion control records, it is not possible to discount that the continued and unintended thrust was caused by the skipper’s actions, particularly in view of Uriah Heep’s manoeuvring characteristics, which required a high degree of anticipation and hand-eye co-ordination.

"However, the skipper was very familiar with the water jet propulsion system.

"Given that the circumstances of the accident were also identical to those experienced at Town Quay in Southampton one year earlier, it is more likely that the loss of propulsion control was due to mechanical malfunction rather than to human error."