It should have been routine.

When The Flying Phantom tug was involved in towing bulk carrier the Red Jasmine up the River Clyde in the biting cold just before Christmas 2007, it was just another working day. But it was the last journey the boat made: it capsized in fog during the operation, causing the death of three of its crewmen, in one of the most shocking accidents on the Clyde in recent times.

Skipper Stephen Humphreys, 33, from Greenock, Robert Cameron, 65, from Houston, Renfrewshire, and Eric Blackley, 57, from Gourock died while Brian Atchison, 37, from Coldingham, escaped and was rescued.

The bereaved families have spent the seven years waiting for a decision on whether there will be a fatal accident inquiry (FAI).

The appalling delay in that decision being taken has brought the FAI system into disrepute, but long hold-ups are sadly far from unusual. According to official data, FAIs are taking up to three years to start. When criminal investigations are being conducted, they can take up to six years to establish.

Now at least Clydeport Operations Ltd has admitted health and safety breaches, namely failing to have in place an adequate contingency plan if fog was encountered, especially when a large vessel was being towed, and failing to provide a safety management system and appoint a suitable individual or individuals as the designated person. These were not the cause of the tragedy, but are nevertheless significant.

The owners of the tug, Svitzer Marine, were fined £1.7 million last year after their health and safety breaches were found to be the primary cause of the accident.

Clydeport's admission is better late than never, but even so, it is unacceptable that it has taken this long for it to hold up its hands. Depressingly, it can be the case that firms avoid admitting any sort of culpability for as long as possible. Allied to the glacial pace of progress in setting up FAIs, this extends families' pain for years.

The case for expediting the FAI process is overwhelming. These inquiries are supposed to ensure that mistakes leading to a death are not repeated, so delay means dangerous problems could continue going undetected. Memories of the sequence of events in question inevitably fade with time; witnesses might even pass away. Even those who do remember might find their memories are corrupted over time by layers of conversation and re-examination.

Setting up three specialist FAI centres around Scotland could help speed up the process, but does not change the fact that FAIs are currently postponed until after any criminal case associated with them has concluded. As with inquests in English coroners' courts, FAIs could run in parallel with criminal proceedings, provided they focused on matters not related to the criminal case.

In other countries, families do not have to wait so long before questions surrounding the death of their loved ones are answered. The Scottish Government cannot allow this unacceptable situation to continue.