Skipper who caused sea collision is fined

Skipper who caused sea collision is fined

9 August 2017

AN Ardglass fisherman has been fined £2,250 for putting “10 souls at risk” by ploughing into another boat on the open sea.

Paul Thomas Wills (43), of Russell Place, was skipper of the Silver Dee, which sank just minutes after crashing into another prawn trawler, the Good Intent, 12 miles offshore.   

The accident happened at 5.35am on July 29, 2015, just two hours after the Silver Dee left Ardglass harbour for a day at sea.

Downpatrick Court heard on Monday that following the crash, the Silver Dee immediately took on water and everyone on board the two boats put on their survival gear while a May Day call was made.

Ten crew members from the two boats escaped uninjured and were escorted by a lifeboat back to Ardglass on board the Good Intent, which suffered damage of over £30,000.

Although the defendant, who was on watch while his crew slept, had spotted the Good Intent about one-and-a-half miles away, he said he did not realise it was drifting and that he was rapidly approaching it.

The court heard that Wills, a fisherman for 20 years and a skipper for 15, had been busy in the wheelhouse at the time as he approached the area he intended to trawl.

Within 10 minutes the Silver Dee, which was “steaming full speed of eight knots”, had covered the the distance between the two vessels. Wills only looked up from the chart he was examining due to the impact.

The prosecution said an adequate watch was particularly critical because of a blind spot in front of Wills’ trawler.

A defence barrister said Wills, who had never had a fishing accident before this day, had wrongly assumed the other trawler had “steamed past him”.

“It was failing to expected the unexpected,” he said.

“It was failing to ensure the Good Intent had passed in front of him as anticipated.

“Both skippers remained unaware of the perilous situation until it was too late.

“The defendant made a mistake in the context of 20 years of fishing and 15 years as a skipper of Silver Dee.

“He was out of work for six months afterwards and the crew lost employment as a result.”

District Judge Philip Mateer accepted Wills had taken a “responsible attitude from the start”, made early pleas of guilty and that he had lost his own boat and been out of work following the accident.

However, he said it was incumbent upon Wills to keep a proper look out and that he had to consider that “10 souls” had been put at risk by him.

“It is important that anyone in charge of a vehicle keeps a proper look out at all times,” he said.

“As a mere resident of land, it seems the sea is a vast and enormous place, but for people who go to sea it is not as vast as it appears.”

Wills was fined for three breaches of shipping regulations including failing to maintain a proper lookout, causing the loss of the Silver Dee by failing to determine the risk of collision with the Good Intent and causing serious damage to the Good Intent.

The prosecution was brought by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.