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Skipper blamed for Prospect grounding

Prospect being towed by the Lerwick lifeboat shortly before she sank on 5 August last year. Photo Malcolm Younger

A NORTH east skipper who ran his fishing boat aground in Lerwick harbour’s north entrance last August has been told to attend a refresher course for navigation skills.

Neil King, from MacDuff, hit the Skibby Baas rocks despite two attempts to warn him by the port’s watchkeeper, according to a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

The report said King had been drinking in a Lerwick pub earlier that day and was only just inside the legal limit for alcohol when he was breathalysed by police when he came ashore.

His boat Prospect was heading out to the fishing grounds off Unst after landing a catch at Lerwick harbour on 5 August.

As he left the port at a speed of 7.6 knots he took a call on the Banff-registered vessel’s satellite phone, turning down his VHF radio to hear better.

When he finished the call he checked that he had received an email from Marine Scotland confirming they realised he was leaving port.

Seconds later the wooden hulled boat struck the rocks, which are well highlighted by beacons and marked clearly on sea charts.

The Lerwick lifeboat was on exercise at the time and was at the scene within five minutes after being alerted by the oil standby vessel Vos Enterprise.

The four crew including King, his mate William Milne, of Whitehills and two Sri Lankan crewmen were rescued without injury.

The twin rig stern trawler lifted off the rocks on the high tide, but sank as the lifeboat towed her into shallower waters.

She lay on the seabed 15 metres down for two weeks before the fourth attempt to lift her with the help of local marine engineering firm Ocean Kinetics succeeded.

There were fears at the time of pollution as Prospect had just loaded her tanks with 22,000 litres of fuel, but only a light sheen of oil escaped from the vessel.

The MAIB report held the skipper entirely responsible for the incident.

It said: “The skipper had not effectively planned and monitored the vessel’s passage.

“He had become distracted in continuing a telephone conversation while altering the vessel’s course.

“It’s possible that his performance was adversely affected by alcohol that he had consumed earlier in the day.”

The report also found that the skipper had not referred to the relevant nautical charts and publications and was therefore ignorant of the lights and beacons at the harbour’s north entrance.

It said the lifeboats had not been prepared after the boat ran aground and only one of the crew donned a lifejacket.

The crew had not take part in emergency drills outside of guardship duty, it added.

The MAIB recommended that the skipper attend a navigation skills/bridge watchkeeping course to update his knowledge of best practice.

It also recommended the crew carry out monthly emergency drills, the vessel has up to date electronic chart plotting systems and skippers and crew comply with watchkeeping and navigation best practice.

The full MAIB report can be found here

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