The Marine Accident Investigation Branch  (MAIB) has released its report into the fatal man-overboard from the creel vessel Harriet J AH 180.

The report, the purpose of which is not to attribute fault or blame, says that on the morning of 28 August, 2021, 64-year-old John Wilson, skipper of the single-handed 7.19m vessel ‘accidentally entered the water while shooting gear’.

The MAIB says that at around 4am that day, John Wilson drove to St Abbs harbour, in Berwickshire, where he was joined by two relatives – the skippers of the vessels Danny Boy and Skua – who were planning to fish in the same area.

While Skua started hauling creels in the bay near Fast Castle Head, Danny Boy and Harriet J headed further west, with Danny Boy working further offshore. The skippers of the three vessels talked over VHF throughout the morning.

At 7.36am, the track of the Harriet J ‘showed a noticeable dip in speed whilst shooting a fourth fleet of creels’.

The report states that the skipper of Skua noticed the Harriet J approaching, and attempted to contact the vessel by VHF, but received no response. He was concerned by ‘both the unusual behaviour of the vessel and its heading’.

At 7.45am, Harriet J passed Skua at a distance of less than 5m. The skipper and crew member onboard Skua dropped the gear they were working and set off in pursuit, raising the alarm by calling the skipper of Danny Boy by VHF as they did so.

On receiving the call, the skipper of Danny Boy contacted the Coastguard, and a friend who was the coxswain of the St Abbs independent lifeboat.

At 7.54am, a crew member from the Skua, which had managed to manoeuvre alongside the Harriet J, was able to board the vessel. He saw no sign of its skipper.

At 8.06am, the Coastguard broadcast a Mayday relay and activated local search and rescue assets, including lifeboats from Eyemouth and a rescue helicopter from Aberdeen. The St Abbs lifeboat was mobilised, with local vessels also assisting in the search.

At 8.57am, the skipper of the fishing vessel Fiddlers’ Green spotted John Wilson in the water approximately 1nm west of Fast Castle Head. He was not wearing a PFD and, although air had become trapped in his clothing and was keeping him afloat, ‘his head was not supported above the surface’.

Just before 9am, the skipper was recovered unconscious from the water and airlifted to hospital, where at 9.55am he was declared deceased.

The MAIB report notes that John Wilson ‘probably entered the water when he became entangled in the chain weight used at the end of the fourth fleet of creels worked that morning’. He was ‘likely pulled from the vessel through the shooting door at the aft end of the working deck, striking his head in the process’.

The report says that ‘once in the water, he was neither able to reboard the vessel nor call for assistance’. “He succumbed to drowning while still in the water.” It notes that a possible contributory factor was a ‘pre-existing heart condition’.

The MAIB has issued a safety flyer to the fishing industry highlighting the lessons to be learned from the accident.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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