Fishing vessel crew ‘ill prepared’ for emergency, report into man’s death finds

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The crew of a fishing vessel on which a man died after being dragged overboard were “ill-prepared” for the emergency, an investigation has found.

Mark Elder, 26, was shooting creels on board the North Star when his leg became entangled in ropes and the skipper was not able to stop the boat before he was pulled into the water at about 6.15pm on February 5 this year.

Fellow crewmen recovered him from the water about 10 minutes later and carried out CPR continuously for almost 90 minutes, but were not able to revive him.

A rescue helicopter arrived at the scene, around 16 nautical miles north of Cape Wrath, at 7.15pm but was not able to pick up Mr Elder as the North Star was moving violently in the sea and swell, and the vessel sailed back to Scrabster in the Highlands.

North Star
Mark Elder was working on North Star when he was dragged overboard (Marine Accident Investigation Branch/PA)

Investigators said: “The MAIB investigation found that the vessel’s documented risk controls did not reflect the operational practice on board and that 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.”

Neither Mr Elder nor the other crew were wearing lifejackets.

Mr Elder worked for Scrabster Seafoods Limited on a zero-hours contract in the company’s factory, but had actively sought to join the crew of North Star.

The trip was his seventh voyage on board but he had not undertaken the mandatory basic sea survival safety training course.

The report noted that without a physical barrier between the crewman and the back ropes, Mr Elder was in an “extremely precarious” position that relied on his ability to keep his feet on the deck.

There had been previous incidents of North Star’s crew becoming entangled in the running back rope, but either the deckhand had been able to quickly disentangle themselves from the rope or the skipper had managed to stop the vessel before the deckhand was dragged overboard.

In the incident in February, the deckhands initially wound the rope on to the hauler in the wrong direction as they tried to recover Mr Elder, and it took two further attempts to wind the rope on successfully.

The report said that the safety drills held on board North Star had been “discussions” rather than practical exercises and noted: “Had practical drills been held on board North Star, the crew would have been better prepared for the emergency.”

North Star’s owner, Scrabster Seafoods Limited, has since installed a physical barrier to reduce the risk of crew becoming entangled in the back rope.

The company has also reviewed its risk assessments, ensured its crew have attended mandatory safety training, provided personal flotation devices on board and introduced a drug and alcohol policy.

MAIB has recommended that Scrabster Seafoods Limited further improves the overall safety of its crews and has recommended the Maritime and Coastguard Agency improves the support and guidance it provides to commercial fishing vessel owners.

It has also issued a safety flyer to the fishing industry.

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