A commercial vessel’s skipper has been convicted after passing too close to a small motor boat off the coast of Sussex, UK capsizing it and leaving three men dead as a result – a result of violation of colregs. David Marr was in charge of the fishing vessel Vertrouwen just after midnight on 6 August 2017, when it passed extremely close to the James 2, a smaller leisure fishing craft which was swamped and sank. Only one of the four men on board survived, after being picked up from the water five hours after the boat sank. The other three men all drowned. Marr was jailed for one year at Lewes Crown Court on 12 March.
The only survivor told Lewes Crown Court that they saw the Vertrouwen from about a kilometre away and all four men had been signalling “like mad” before the collision. Despite this, the Vertrouwen carried on in the same direction at the same speed and the James 2 was swamped by waves. He described having a clear view of the Vertrouwen’s deck as she passed by and that he couldn’t see anyone there.
Libby Clark, from the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), said: “It was our case that David Marr had not been paying sufficient attention, if any, when he was on watch.”
“Had he done so, he would have seen the men on the James 2 as he headed close to them, who were frantically signalling to him in a bid to avert disaster.
“Instead of constantly checking to ensure he knew what was out there, it appears he was doing other things and, even after his actions caused the James 2 to sink, he continued to sail on, oblivious to the fact that three men were about to die as a result of his not keeping a proper look out.”
“The evidence showed that he would have been able to see the lights on the boat for six minutes before the near miss, yet he continued to sail directly towards the boat with tragic consequences.
“It was not unusual for small fishing boats, like the James 2, to be in this area and the defendant should have been alert to that and the fact that small vessels may not be detected by radar at an adequate stage.
“David Marr should have been using every means available to him, as required by maritime regulations, to establish what, if anything, might be in the sea ahead of or around the ship.
Proving the case
During the trial, the jury heard expert evidence from a master mariner, who explained that a proper lookout on a ship requires the watch keeper to give full attention to their task and to be continually visually scanning ahead and around. They also need to be mindful that smaller vessels may only be detectable at a short range and that marine guidelines state two people should always be on watch during the hours of darkness.
Investigations showed that both the main and back-up radars of the Vertrouwen were replaced on 3 August 2017, just days before the incident happened, and checks were made to ensure they were working. The first mate also confirmed that the radar equipment was working correctly when he took over the shift just hours after the incident.
Evidence also showed that the defendant appeared to be using the ship’s laptop computer around the time of the incident and was also sending What’s App messages to a friend.
Rule 5 of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) states: Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.
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