French lessons in keeping your boat afloat

You may have seen this story, in which case apologies, but if you haven’t it’s as good an example  as there is of the problems that can occur when there are no interpreters around when they are needed – or to be more accurate, of the problems that occur when people assume that they have communicated with each other but, in reality, have failed spectacularly to do so…

In March this year, a French trawler sought safety in Dartmouth Harbour during stormy weather.  Then, as the Torquay Herald and Express reported in its summary of the investigation (which only finished in the last few weeks), “Steve Clinch, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, said, ‘This accident happened as a result of a misunderstanding of communication between people of two different languages who could not speak each other’s language.’”

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The ship, Saint Christope 1, was directed by the harbour authorities to a berth where they knew that it would come to grief when the tide receded. Unfortunately, they could not speak French, or at least not to the extent that the boat’s skipper could understand them – and he couldn’t speak English. Their hand gestures were interpreted by the skipper to mean that his crew would have to tend the lines as the tide went out.  They thought they had got the message across.

The inevitable happened. The tide, naturally, did go out, and the trawler listed to one side before grounding on the harbour bottom.

The story of the investigation made the national press, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that “it later transpired that the harbour had a list of people who could act at translators if needed, but neither the harbourmaster nor his deputy were aware of it.”  The Telegraph concluded its story by noting, “The authority will make a remote emergency language service available at all hours, with notices on the quayside providing details.”

The official investigation – entitled “The grounding of French fishing vessels. Saint Christophe 1 (CN666535) and Sagittaire (CN764603) while alongside in Dartmouth resulting in the flooding and sinking of Saint Christophe 1 on 10 March 2016 – (which you can read here and from which the picture above was taken) found that there were mistakes all round, including on the part of the French skipper.  Sadly, the trawler could not be salvaged.

So the next time some says, “why should I learn a foreign language…?”, just tell them about the St Christope 1 and Dartmouth Harbour, and the very big bill that resulted.

Rosetta Stone, Global Connects