On 12 November 2017, a deckhand on the fishing vessel Illustris entered the water after probably falling overboard. He had spent the afternoon and evening ashore and had just returned to the vessel. The deckhand’s fall was not witnessed, and he was not missed until the following day. The postmortem examination report indicated drowning as a probable cause of death, with a contribution of acute alcohol toxicity.
At 1206 on 12 November 2017, Illustris berthed port side alongside Northern Quest. With bad weather forecast, the vessel was to remain in port until 14 November. The skipper and mate both went home, leaving the four deckhands on board.
At about 13.30, one of the deckhands, Robert Montgomery, went ashore to a public house, where he spent the afternoon drinking alcohol. Shortly after 19.30, he was joined by one of his crewmates and other fishermen, including Northern Quest’s skipper. At about 2200, Northern Quest’s skipper escorted him back to the marina. Before getting into the taxi, Robert fell backwards, hitting the ground and cutting his head. After getting out of the taxi at the marina, he again fell to the ground, this time landing on his face.
Northern Quest’s skipper walked with Robert along the quayside to Northern Quest, and then stayed on the quay while he watched Robert board Northern Quest. He watched Robert cross the deck, board Illustris, cross its shelter deck and turn out of sight behind Illustris’s wheelhouse. Northern Quest’s skipper then walked back up the quay.
At 2246, Robert’s mobile phone signal disconnected from its network. One of Illustris’s deckhands, who had remained on board, was sitting in the wheelhouse at the time that Robert returned, but he was unaware of him boarding and heard nothing concerning
At about 1000, Illustris’s mate arrived on board and called the crew to gather. When Robert did not appear, a brief search of the vessel was carried out and the mate tried to call him on his mobile phone. But the call did not connect.
At 1153 the marina manager called ‘999’ and reported Robert missing. The marina manager and the mate then checked the marina’s closed circuit television (CCTV) for any signs of Robert after his return to the marina. There were none.
The emergency response was comprehensive and extensive, with the nearby Tynemouth Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) inshore lifeboat, coastguard coastal rescue teams and police dive teams participating in the search. At 1423 on 14 November, a police dive team located Robert’s body beneath the fishing vessel Pathway, which was berthed ahead of Illustris.
The high level of alcohol in Robert’s system is likely to have affected his risk perception, reaction time and co-ordination, which caused him to fall overboard.
Moreover, while limited alcohol consumption may be acceptable in port, the investigation findings show a need to ensure that it does not compromise the safety of those crew who are required to return to their vessels after an evening ashore.
In addition, unless able to exit the water quickly, Robert needed to be wearing a PFD or other buoyancy aid and/or for others to be alerted to his predicament so as to provide rapid assistance.
Robert had not had the benefit of attending the mandatory safety awareness training course, which might have enhanced his general risk perception.
Sagittarius Fishing Co Ltd was recommended to consider the hazards associated with crew members proceeding to and from shore for recreational activities by:
- Reviewing and enhancing Illustris’s risk assessment relating to boarding and leaving the vessel, including the need for a nominated crewman to monitor and assist individuals board the vessel;
- Establishing a formal drug and alcohol policy that will apply to the crew at all times when living or working on board;
- Ensuring crew members attend all of the mandatory safety training courses.
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