The Banff-registered fishing boat Prospect grounded last year because the skipper became distracted while taking a telephone conversation, a damning marine safety report has found.
New findings by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch state that the man in charge failed to effectively monitor the trawler’s progress as she sailed out of Lerwick Harbour’s north mouth on 5th August.
The Prospect had been heading towards her intended fishing grounds when she came to grief on Robbie Ramsay’s Baa. Her hull was penetrated, causing the fish hold to immediately flood, and the onboard pumps were unable to cope with the water.
On board were skipper for the trip Neil King of Macduff, William Milne of Whitehills and two Sri Lankan deckhands. There were no injuries or pollution, although the incident sparked prolonged efforts to raise the vessel amid fears that the 22,000 litres of diesel on board may leak into the sea.
The Prospect was eventually raised by local firm Ocean Kinetics after spending more than two weeks beneath 15 metres of water. Several failed attempts had been made to bring the vessel up.
Conclusions contained in the 12-page report say the skipper gave “insufficient consideration” to the potential influence of the tidal stream that was setting the vessel towards the rocks, which the report described as “Skibby Baas”.
The MAIB report states that the skipper, who had earlier been drinking, became distracted after opting to check whether an email had been received during the departure.
The report states:
• Warnings from port control on VHF radio channel 12 that the vessel was heading for Skibby Baas went unheeded, because the boat’s VHF radio volume control had been turned down.
• The skipper was not aware of the existence of a Lerwick Harbour north entrance sector light, or that the Skibby Baas beacon was just eight metres from the eastern limit of the rocks, because he had not referred to the relevant nautical charts and publications.
• Alcohol consumed earlier in the day might have adversely affected the skipper’s performance.
The findings also state that the crew were relying on out-dated information about the vessel’s route. That was because the track loaded in the chart plotter was one passed on by another skipper as far back as 1997.
In its analysis of the accident the report states: “The grounding occurred because the skipper, being the sole lookout, lost positional awareness … He believed that Prospect would pass clear of Skibby Baas because the turn to the starboard had put the beacon “fine on the vessel’s port bow”.
“Although he [the skipper] was reportedly aware of the rate and direction of the predicted tidal stream, he did not take sufficient account of its potential influence in setting the vessel towards Skibby Baas.
“The skipper then became distracted by continuing a telephone conversation … which compromised his monitoring of the vessel’s track. It is likely that the tidal stream set the vessel onto the rocks, east of the beacon.
“After the telephone conversation had ended, there was a chance that the grounding could have been averted had the skipper then checked the vessel’s position instead of looking for the email from Marine Scotland. In addition, the wheelhouse television set was turned on, which might have added to his distraction.
“Although the port control watchkeeper attempted to alert Prospect’s skipper to the danger of grounding, the volume control on the radio set monitoring VHF radio Channel 12 was turned down. Therefore, the potential benefit of alerting the skipper was lost.
“The skipper was breathalysed approximately 6.5 hours after his last alcoholic drink and 3.75 hours after the grounding. The test result was just below the regulatory limit, suggesting that alcohol might have adversely affected his performance leading up to the grounding.”
Liferafts were not prepared and only one of the four fishermen onboard managed to put on a lifejacket.
Crew-members had not carried out drills outside guardship duty periods to prepare them for an emergency, although they all held appropriate safety training course certificates.
The report recommends that the skipper attends a refresher course in navigation skills and bridge watch keeping to update his knowledge of “navigation best practice”.
The owner of the vessel, George Watson of Whitehills, is also being urged to ensure that all crew members are able to comply with best practice and that electronic chart plotting systems, used in lieu of paper charts, are compliant with regulations.
It has also been recommended that emergency drills are carried out and recorded on a monthly basis.