The Managing Director of London Duck Tours has told the London Assembly’s Thames passenger boat investigation committee that his company is committed to passenger safety.
The committee is investigating the handling of an incident on September 29th in which a London Duck Tours vehicle caught fire and passengers had to evacuate the vessel.
Passengers and crew were assisted by a London Fire Brigade boat, Metropolitan Police helicopter, 2 Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboats and other passenger vessels.
The firm’s fleet is currently out of service on the recommendation of Chief Marine Accident Inspector Captain Steve Clinch.
Appearing before the committee on Wednesday, London Duck Tours’ managing director John Bigos said the company had always placed passenger safety at the heart of its service.
He said the incident was something he’d never want to see happen again and that footage of the fire was not “a good advertisement for our capital”.
He also paid tribute to the “amazing” response of the London Fire Brigade which attended the stricken vessel within 6 minutes of the crew making their distress call.
Assembly Members heard how the company carried 2 life jackets for babies on all vessels, in addition to those for older children and adults and that its booking systems ensured there are never more infants than life jackets on any tour.
Mr Bigos also told AMs that in the past he had sent office staff to accompany tours where crew had raised concerns about the ratio of children to adults.
The committee also heard from Philip Naylor, the Maritime Coastguard Agency’s maritime safety and standards director who said it would “not have been usual” for passengers to wear lifejackets as a matter of course.
Mr Bigos added that the routine wearing of life jackets could cause unnecessary concern for some passengers.
He also revealed that the company was paying all 60 of its staff members even though it was currently not operating, and that the closure had cost it £350k in October.
The Passenger Boats Association told AMs that travelling along the Thames was one of the top five attractions for visitors to the capital.
Speaking after the meeting, committee chair Victoria Borwick AM said: “Thames boat trips are a must for many visitors to London and it is essential that all the organisations involved in safety on the river learn lessons from the fire aboard a ‘duck tour’ boat last month to ensure it cannot happen again.
“We heard a detailed account of the response to the fire, the safety requirements and regulatory framework for the vehicle involved, as well as accounts from a passenger involved.
“The vast majority of trips pass off without incident, but I hope our investigation – and subsequent report – will go some way towards ensuring that river tours aboard these unique vessels remain safe and enjoyable for all involved.”
The committee will publish a report into the incident later in the year but will not deal with any issues due to be covered by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s own inquiry.