Court / Skipper recalls man overboard incident as fatal accident inquiry begins

THE SKIPPER of a local whitefish trawler told an inquiry at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Monday how he was unable to hold on to a fellow crewman who fell overboard while carrying out repairs.

The body of Edison Lacaste was recovered from the waters by the Sumburgh based search and rescue helicopter 30 miles southeast of Sumburgh in February 2021.

During the first day of a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of the 45-year-old Philippine national, skipper of the Copious LK 985 Andrew White recalled the events that led to the tragic loss.

Edison (Joseph) Lacaste died when he fell overboard from the whitefish trawler Copious on 18 February 2021.

Being questioned in great detail by fiscal David Glancy, the 40-year-old skipper described Lacaste, who was known as Joseph, as a “good worker, a nice guy and a very reliable crew” who had been working and living on the vessel 10 months of the year since 2015.


A Fatal Accident Inquiry is a public hearing to establish what caused a sudden or unexplained death and prevent future deaths from happening in similar circumstances.

At the time of the accident the Copious, part of the 60 North (Shetland) Fishing company, was working with a crew of six, four of which were foreign recruited through an agency.

The twin rigger was hauling its nets in the early hours of 18 February, when the crew became aware that a hammer lock on one of the wires attached to the net had failed and needed to be replaced.

This gear failure was described as rare, but one that does need to be repaired there and then, and the crew knew how to respond without much discussion.

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Skipper White said he saw the winch wire was hanging and left the wheelhouse to assist Lacaste who was already in the process getting the repair under way, requesting a shackle so that it could be fixed to the loose wire trailing behind the vessel.

White told the inquiry that in order to assist Lacaste in getting the wires reconnected he had turned away to pull more wire slack.

“Next time I see him he goes overboard,” the skipper added.

Lacaste went overboard through the portside opening, but to do so he must have climbed up on the bulwark of the vessel. It was not clear why he would have done that.

The crew reacted instantly by knocking the vessel out of gear to stop the boat.

A floating mooring rope was thrown to Lacaste in the hope that he would be able to put the loop over his head to allow his crew members to pull him back on board.


Meanwhile his personal floatation device (PFD) had inflated, but because it was not worn properly without the crutch straps fastened, the PFD was moving over his head meaning Lacaste was floating far too low in the water and waves were breaking over him.

White told the court that Lacaste was panicking and instead of using the loop of the mooring rope he tried to climb it.

However, they managed to pull him in the direction of the port ladder, and skipper White climbed down the ladder in an attempt to pull him from the freezing water.

“I went down the ladder, got his hands on to the ladder but he had no strength to hold on. I managed to get hold of his left arm, but he was washed out of my hands by a wave,” the skipper said.


It was then that the crew sent out a mayday call and the coastguard helicopter was launched.

White continued saying that the crew managed to get Lacaste alongside the vessel a couple of times more with the help of a grabbing hook, but there was no longer any response from the fisherman.

He added that there was a risk of “losing him completely by pulling his PFD off” so the crew stopped any further attempts and left it to the search and rescue helicopter to retrieve Lacaste’s body.

The skipper told the inquiry that no more than three to four minutes had passed between Lacaste falling into the water and him becoming unable to assist in any attempt to rescue his colleague. It was “shockingly short,” White added.

The crew of the Copious had carried out regular man overboard drills since at least 2013, according to the vessel’s logbooks which were examined on Monday.


The vessel carried all the required safety equipment and wearing a PFD while working on deck the vessel was mandatory and was enforced.

Asked about whether the PFDs were worn properly, White told the inquiry that the device’s restraining crutch strap were regarded as a hazard by many fishermen and therefore often taped to the device rather than being worn.

That, he said, has changed on board the Copious since the accident.

The inquiry continues on Tuesday when officers from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) will give evidence.

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