The incident

On 5 February 2018 at approximately 1815, a crewman on the 16.46m creel fishing vessel North Star, was dragged overboard after his leg became entangled in the fishing gear as the crew were shooting creels 16nm north of Cape Wrath, Scotland. The crew recovered him back onboard about 10 minutes later; he was unconscious and unresponsive. The crew carried out cardiopulmonary resuscitation for over an hour, but they were unable to revive him.

According to MAIB investigation, the accident occurred because the crewman was working close to running ropes and became entangled in the back rope while engaged in toggling the creels on to the leg ropes. Although the alarm was raised quickly, the skipper was unable to stop the vessel in time to prevent the crewman from being dragged overboard.


  1. There was no physical barrier to prevent the crewman from becoming entangled in the back rope.
  2. Previous similar incidents on North Star in which a man overboard had been prevented, together with a perceived ‘safer’ manual shooting arrangement, probably contributed to both the crewman and the remaining crew underestimating the risks associated with the back rope.
  3. Without a knife readily available to cut the crewman free of the back rope, there was little else that the crewman, or anyone else, could do to prevent him from going overboard.
  4. North Star’s documented risk assessment did not identify knives as a risk control measure, and there were no knives available for use in the vicinity of the shooting hatch.
  5. Without a knife to hand, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the crewman to free himself from the back rope before drowning.
  6. The crewman had not undertaken the mandatory Basic Sea Survival safety training course. Consequently, he was ill-prepared for sudden cold water immersion, and might have succumbed to the effects of cold water shock.
  7. The safety drills held onboard North Star had been ‘discussions’ rather than practical exercises that would have allowed the crew to practise manoverboard procedures.
  8. Neither the owner nor the senior skipper was proactive in ensuring that the applicable regulatory requirements were met or that published industry best practice was being followed.
  9. North Star’s documented risk controls did not reflect the operational practice on board and, following a modification to the working deck layout, the risk of a deckhand becoming entangled in the back rope remained high.
  10. The MCA relied on a new owner completing, or arranging for the completion of, new risk assessments and vessel self-certification, and applying for an intermediate inspection to be carried out.
  11. It is possible that the crewman's concentration was adversely affected by his use of cannabis.
  12. It is possible that the crewman’s concentration was adversely affected by the familiar and repeated task of hauling and shooting creels.

This is one of a number of recent accidents in which fishermen have died after becoming entangled in gear when the vessels’ crews have been unable to either prevent them from going overboard or quickly recover them back on board. North Star’s crew had not completed a practical manoverboard drill during their time on board and were ill-prepared for the emergency.

Lessons learned

  • The vessel’s documented risk controls did not reflect the operational practice onboard
  • The crew underestimated the risks associated with a crewman becoming entangled in the back rope and being dragged overboard
  • Shooting operations did not follow published industry best practice to effectively physically separate the crew from the back rope and to have knives at hand
  • North Star’s owners were new to fishing vessel ownership and did not take a proactive approach to ensure regulatory compliance in respect of risk assessment review, vessel inspection and crew qualifications


  • A recommendation has been made to the owner, which seeks to further improve the overall safety of its crews.
  • A recommendation has also been made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency aimed at improving the support and guidance it provides to commercial fishing vessel owners.

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