Fishing vessel crew ‘ill-prepared’, marine accident report finds

Picture: RNLI
Picture: RNLI
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The crew of a fishing vessel on which a man died after being dragged overboard were “ill-prepared” for the emergency, an investigation has found.

Mark Elder, 26, was shooting creels on board the North Star when his leg became entangled in ropes, and the skipper was not able to stop the boat before he was pulled into the water at about 6:15pm on 
5 February this year.

Fellow crewmen recovered him from the water about ten minutes later and carried out CPR continuously for almost 90 minutes, but were not able to revive him.

A rescue helicopter arrived at the scene, around 16 nautical miles north of Cape Wrath, at 7:15pm but was not able to pick up Mr Elder as the North Star was moving violently in the sea and swell, and the vessel sailed back to Scrabster in the Highlands.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found the North Star crew had not completed a practical “man overboard” drill during their time on board and were “ill-prepared” for the emergency.

Investigators said: “The MAIB investigation found that the vessel’s documented risk controls did not reflect the operational practice on board and that the crew underestimated the risks associated with a crewman becoming entangled in the back rope and being dragged overboard.

“Shooting operations did not follow published industry best practice to effectively physically separate the crew from the back rope and to have knives at hand.”

Neither Mr Elder nor the other crew members were wearing lifejackets.

Mr Elder worked for Scrabster Seafoods Limited on a zero-hours contract in the company’s factory, but had actively sought to join the crew of North Star. The trip was his seventh voyage on board but he had not undertaken the mandatory basic sea survival safety training course.

The report noted that without a physical barrier between the crewman and the back ropes, Mr Elder was in an “extremely precarious” position.

There had been previous incidents of North Star’s crew becoming entangled in the running back rope, but either the deckhand had been able to quickly disentangle themselves from the rope or the skipper had managed to stop the vessel.

The deckhands initially wound the rope on to the hauler in the wrong direction as they tried to recover Mr Elder.

The report said that the safety drills held on board North Star had been “discussions” and noted: “Had practical drills been held on board North Star, the crew would have been better prepared.”