The incident

At 0026 on 6 August 2017, the 5.64m 'James 2' and the 26.24m 'Vertrouwen' collided in Sussex Bay, 1.6 miles south-east of Shoreham harbour. James 2 was drifting with the wind and tide while the four men on board were rod fishing for mackerel; Vertrouwen had just left port and was on passage to Grimsby. Neither vessel was damaged by the impact, but James 2 was swamped by Vertrouwen’s wash and sank. Three of the men on board the motor cruiser drowned; a fourth was rescued from the water 5 hours later by a passing fishing vessel.

Probable cause

Vertrouwen and James 2 collided because Vertrouwen’s wheelhouse watchkeeper did not see the drifting motor cruiser and the sea anglers onboard James 2 did not realise that they were in danger of being run down until it was too late.

Conclusions

  • James 2 was easily swamped by Vertrouwen’s wash due to its low freeboard aft, and did not have the required level of internal subdivision or built-in flotation to remain afloat in the flooded condition.
  • Neither vessel was maintaining a proper lookout by sight and hearing. Vertrouwen’s skipper was a lone watchkeeper and he allowed himself to become distracted by using his mobile phone and working on his laptop computer. The sea anglers were focused on enjoying a social evening fishing and did not keep a lookout.
  • There is a continuing need to educate leisure craft users of the dangers of consuming alcohol while operating afloat.
  • James 2 did not have all the navigation lights required to operate at sea at night and, as a result, it is likely that the motor cruiser was not visible from Vertrouwen’s wheelhouse.
  • James 2 presented a good radar echo on Shoreham Port’s radar system, and should have been identifiable on Vertrouwen’s radar screens.
  • The 6-mile range set on Vertrouwen’s radar screens made it more difficult for the skipper to detect the drifting James 2.
  • The brightness of Vertrouwen’s illuminated deck floodlights diminished the level of night vision from the vessel’s wheelhouse and made its navigation lights less distinguishable to other vessels. This, therefore, increased the likelihood of a collision.
  • James 2 and the four sea anglers were ill-prepared to make a short trip offshore at night:
    ○ James 2 did not have sufficient freeboard, any reserve buoyancy or a means of pumping out flood water
    ○ James 2 was not carrying distress flares or a fog horn
    ○ The sea anglers were not wearing PFDs
    ○ None of the sea anglers had undertaken any formal maritime safety training for operating the boat offshore, nor for the operation of the marine VHF unit
  • Had the four sea anglers been able to raise the alarm and been wearing lifejackets or buoyancy aids, their chances of survival would have been significantly improved.

 

Safety issues

  • An effective lookout was not being kept on either vessel
  • None of the sea anglers on James 2 were wearing lifejackets
  • James 2 was not showing the correct navigation lights for a vessel of its size
  • The watchkeeper on Vertrouwen was distracted by social media on his phone and vessel administration on a laptop in the wheelhouse

Recommendations

Safety recommendations have been made to the owners of Vertrouwen to include references within their safety management system to keeping a lookout and when to complete vessel departure reports.

The UK MAIB also launched a video summarising the accident and lessons identified by investigation:

Further details may be found in the full report: