Fishing trawler captain distracted by WhatsApp in fatal incident

The skipper of a fishing trawler which sank another boat, killing three anglers, was distracted by his WhatsApp messages, Brighton Crown Court has been told.

David Marr was sending messages as his 85ft vessel, Vertrouwen, approached a small fishing boat, James 2, in 2017.

Brighton Crown Court was told the four anglers on board attempted to signal the commercial scallop dredger by shouting and waving torches, says the Daily Mail.

Vertrouwen missed the smaller vessel, but it was swamped by a large wave, causing it to sink.

Elvis Cojocariu why survived, and three other men who did not, jumped into the sea without lifebelts and attempted to swim for shore.

David Marr is charged with failing to keep a proper lookout on board the commercial trawler contrary to international regulations on preventing a collision at sea.

The court heard it should have had two watchmen on the lookout but only Marr was on duty.

“It is very clear that he [Marr] was entirely unaware of the James 2. He was not paying sufficient if any attention to keeping a lookout out from his wheelhouse,” said David Richards, prosecuting.

“If he had he would have seen the James 2, he would have seen the men on board as he steamed towards them and passed close by them.

“Mr Marr was attending to other matters and was unnecessarily distracted from his principle job of paying attention.

“They were shouting, they were signalling like mad. Water flooded into the James 2 but the Vertrouwen carried on in the same direction and the same speed.”

Cojocariu survived after he was picked up by a fisherman who was out checking his nets.

The jury was told the James 2 was more suited to inland waterways rather than the sea and lacked much of the lighting it should have had.

However, Richards said, it did have navigation lights and spotlights and the men were wearing head torches.

The case continues says the Daily Mail.

In the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on the incident, published March 2018, investigators presented the following conclusions:

Vertrouwen and James 2 collided because Vertrouwen’s wheelhouse watchkeeper did not see the drifting motor cruiser, and the sea anglers on board James 2 did not realise that they were in danger of being run down until it was too late.

James 2 was easily swamped by Vertrouwen’s wash due to its low freeboard aft, and did not have the required level of internal subdivision or built-in flotation to remain afloat in the flooded condition.

• Neither vessel was maintaining a proper lookout by sight and hearing. Vertrouwen’s skipper was a lone watchkeeper and he allowed himself to become distracted by using his mobile phone and working on his laptop computer. The sea anglers were focused on enjoying a social evening fishing and did not keep a lookout.

James 2 did not have all the navigation lights required to operate at sea at night and, as a result, it is likely that the motor cruiser was not visible from Vertrouwen’s wheelhouse.

James 2 presented a good radar echo on Shoreham Port’s radar system, and should have been identifiable on Vertrouwen’s radar screens.

• The six-mile range set on Vertrouwen’s radar screens made it more difficult for the skipper to detect the drifting James 2.

• The brightness of Vertrouwen’s illuminated deck floodlights diminished the level of night vision from the vessel’s wheelhouse and made its navigation lights less distinguishable to other vessels. This, therefore, increased the likelihood of a collision.

James 2 and the four sea anglers were ill-prepared to make a short trip offshore at night. James 2 did not have sufficient freeboard, any reserve buoyancy or a means of pumping out flood water. There were no distress flares or a fog horn. The sea anglers were not wearing PFDs. None of the sea anglers had undertaken any formal maritime safety training for operating the boat offshore, nor for the operation of the marine VHF unit.

• Had the four sea anglers been able to raise the alarm and been wearing lifejackets or buoyancy aids, their chances of survival would have been significantly improved.

Vertrouwen’s forward facing dredge deck floodlights visible from ahead

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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