At 1311 on 7 May 2018, the single-handed fishing vessel Laura Jane capsized off Mount Batten Breakwater in Plymouth trapping its skipper in the wheelhouse. The vessel remained afloat with a few centimetres of the wheelhouse protruding above the water. Two RNLI lifeboats arrived at the scene within 15 minutes of the capsize and Laura Jane was towed to the nearby Batten Bay beach, arriving at around 1400. The skipper was extracted from the wheelhouse by two of the RNLI crew who broke a wheelhouse window to get access to him. He was immersed in water, was unconscious and not breathing. Attempts to resuscitate him by the lifeboat crew and paramedics from the emergency services were unsuccessful. He was then airlifted to Derriford Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased at 1450.
There were lessons to be learned from this unfortunate incident leading sadly to loss of life, with recommendations to other fishing crews.
- The weight of the fishing gear on Laura Jane reduced its freeboard to the extent that water entered the vessel through its freeing ports, causing it to capsize.
- Between 2012 and the vessel’s loss, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) inspected the vessel a number of times. However, the presence of low level freeing ports on an open boat was not challenged.
- Laura Jane’s owner had not undertaken a stability assessment of the vessel, as recommended in guidance published by the MCA, and had taken the successful outcome of MCA inspections as assurance that the vessel was safe to operate.
- The skipper had not completed the mandatory Safety Awareness and Risk Assessment training course or any stability awareness training.
Laura Jane’s owner has been recommended to ensure that crew employed on its vessels possess all mandatory safety training course certificates, and to require its skippers to complete the voluntary Seafish <16.5m skipper’s certificate scheme with a view to enhancing their stability awareness.
They have also been recommended to carry out stability assessments, in accordance with published guidance, of any <12m fishing vessels that it may own.