Forty winks costs £10k as skipper fined for sleeping on job

scales of justice on a desk after fishing skipper caused vessel collision sleeping

A fishing trawler’s skipper’s been sentenced to eight months imprisonment (suspended for 12 months) and ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work. That’s on top of £10,000 in costs. Lewes Crown Court heard that Maurice Reid fell asleep during his watch, causing the vessel Margaret Anne to collide with another boat, Blackbird.

The collision happened in January 2022. Reid was in charge of the fishing vessel Margaret Anne’s journey when he started to fall asleep. Moments later the vessel collided with anchored fishing vessel Blackbird in the Shoreham area, off the south coast of Sussex, causing minor injuries to the two men onboard.

The crew on Blackbird had been shouting and waving at Margaret Anne in an attempt to stop the pending collision, before pulling on the anchor to ensure minor impact.

Unaffected by the hit, Margaret Anne continued its journey.

When crew members of Margaret Anne looked out the window it dawned on them what had happened to the smaller vessel, and it was only then they realised their skipper was asleep.

Heard at Lewes Crown Court, Reid pleaded guilty to failing to do what was required as master to prevent his ship from causing serious damage to another ship or serious injury to another person, under Section 58 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Reid also pleaded guilty to failing to maintain a proper look out, under the Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) Regulations 1996.

“This was a dangerous situation caused by the master of the fishing vessel failing to adhere to the collision avoidance rules, which could have had disastrous consequences were it not for the quick thinking of those on the vessel in danger. The outcome could have been much worse,” says Maritime and Coastguard Agency investigator Martin Hayward.

“The UK fishing industry has the highest proportion of deaths and serious injury per capita of any industry within the UK. Many events involving casualties on fishing vessels are a result of complacency, neglect and flagrant disregard for the law. This is unacceptable and those fishers and owners who put lives at risk will be prosecuted.

“The MCA continues to work with the fishing industry to improve safety, and those not willing to engage, improve levels of compliance and operate safely will face the full weight of the law.”

Earlier this year, Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published its accident investigation report into the grounding of a passenger ferry off the Orkney Islands which concluded the ferry ran aground after master ‘fell asleep’. The roll-on/roll-off passenger ferry Alfred caused chaos when it ran aground off the east coast of Swona Island in the Scottish archipelago on 5 July 2022. MAIB’s annual report of accidents, including statistics, is available online.

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

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