THE owners of the Flying Phantom tug have had their appeal against a £1.7 million fine over its sinking thrown out.

Svitzer Marine Ltd lodged an appeal after being punished for failing to ensure the safety of the crew aboard the Greenock vessel, which sank seven years ago.

Greenock skipper Stephen Humphreys, 33, deckhand Eric Blackley, 57, from Gourock, and fellow crewman Robert Cameron, 65, of Houston, all lost their lives in the tragedy, which happened in thick fog on the River Clyde.

Svitzer had pled guilty at the High Court in Glasgow last year to health and safety failures.

The firm also admitted not putting a safe operating procedure in place after an accident involving a tug in 2000.

But bosses at the company subsequently challenged the fine — and now their appeal has been turned down, the Telegraph can reveal.

Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompsons solicitors, which represents the families of the three men who lost their lives, today welcomed the refusal of Svitzer’s appeal.

Mr McGuire told the Tele: “The fact that this appeal has failed sends out a clear signal that Svitzer’s offence was extremely serious and simply will not be tolerated.

“Three men lost their lives in this awful tragedy, leaving behind grieving families, and it’s right and proper that Svitzer Marine were punished with this hefty fine.

“But the fight for the families is not over as Clydeport — who are also being prosecuted over this tragedy — continue to plead not guilty, which prolongs the ordeal for the men’s loved ones.” The Flying Phantom sank while towing a huge bulk carrier on 19 December in 2007.

The bodies of Mr Humphreys, Mr Cameron and Mr Blackley were later recovered and the vessel was salvaged in an operation the following month.

A fourth crewman, Brian Aitchison, was rescued from the water during the fatal accident.

The Telegraph contacted Svitzer and invited them to comment but we received no response from the company.