Court hearings reveal trawler skipper was distracted prior to fatal 2017 sinking in Sussex Bay

The wreckage of James 2 being recovered from the waters of Sussex Bay (Photo: MAIB)

Prosecutors in the UK have stated that the failure of a commercial fishing boat captain to maintain a proper lookout resulted in an incident that left three people dead in Sussex Bay off Shoreham on August 6, 2017.

David Marr, 55, has been put on trial at Brighton Crown Court for operating his vessel, the 26-metre scallop trawler Vertrouwen, while being entirely unaware that a small recreational boat was also nearby with four people on board at around 00:25 local time on the said date.

A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report released in the months following the accident said that neither Vertrouwen nor the 5.64-metre James 2 was damaged by the impact. However, James 2 became swamped by Vertrouwen‘s wash and sank.

Three of James 2‘s occupants drowned while the fourth was rescued from the water hours later by a passing fishing vessel. The fatalities have been identified as Mr Mircea Ilie, Mr Irinel Popovici, and Mr Traiam Dumitrache while Mr Elvis Cojocariu was the lone survivor.

The MAIB said the collision occurred because Mr Marr did not see James 2, and once the latter’s occupants realised the danger, they had insufficient time to manoeuvre clear of the approaching fishing boat.

The four men shouted and waved torches to warn the scallop boat, to no avail.

The three men drowned because they were not wearing lifejackets or buoyancy aids and were unable to raise an alarm, the MAIB report added.

The court hearing determined that Mr Marr was distracted at the time of the incident, being preoccupied with sending messages via the online messaging platform Whatsapp.

The proceedings also revealed that Mr Marr was the only person on board Vertrouwen, which compelled him to assume the additional lookout duty while also being at the helm in violation of international regulations on collision prevention.

It was also revealed that James 2 had not been sufficiently prepared or equipped to go to sea. It had inadequate freeboard, its navigation lights did not meet the standards required, and basic safety equipment was either not carried or not worn.

Further, Mr Cojocariu admitted to the court that he had consumed a “substantial amount” of alcohol and became drunk in the hours before the sinking.

If the sea anglers had been able to raise the alarm and been wearing lifejackets or buoyancy aids, all four of them would almost certainly have survived, the MAIB said.

Local media said that the case is still ongoing.

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