Skipper who set course for rocks ‘confused’ by boat grounding, report finds

A skipper was “confused” when the fishing boat he was operating grounded on rocks, having earlier inadvertently set a course directly for them, an investigation has found.

The Spanish-owned vessel Coelleria ran aground on Ve Skerries, a reef off the west coast of Shetland last August.

The 15 crew members, none of whom were injured, were airlifted to safety by the coastguard rescue helicopter.

Attempts to salvage the boat were unsuccessful and it broke up and sank.

Along with its catch of fish, the 30m boat was carrying around 15 tonnes of diesel oil but the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found there was “no significant pollution”.

An MAIB report found the 56-year-old Spanish skipper, an experienced fisherman, was “confused” when the boat hit the reef at 1.24am on August 4 and the impact woke the crew.

Around an hour earlier, he had adjusted course as the boat headed from fishing grounds to the harbour at Scrabster, Caithness, sending the vessel straight for the rocks.

His route was based on following the coast rather than plotted points, and when he saw a light he believed it was on the mainland and not the lighthouse on the reef he later grounded on.

He was keeping watch alone and was not in the wheelhouse when the boat ran aground.

The report found several safety issues following the incident, including the route not being properly planned, the position of the boat not being closely monitored and that the electronic navigation equipment in use “affected the skipper’s ability to monitor the vessel’s position and identify navigational hazards”.

Investigators found no one maintained an effective lookout and the bridge was unmanned at the time of grounding.

The performance of the skipper may have “been adversely affected by fatigue” as he had only been able to rest for less than nine hours across two periods in the 24 hours before the grounding – and was due to carry on working for another 13 hours, against regulations.

Coelleria
The vessel ran aground on Ve Skerries close to the lighthouse (MAIB/PA)

The report states: “When Coelleira’s heading was adjusted to 206° at 0023…the skipper did not realise he was turning Coelleira directly towards Ve Skerries.”

It continues: “During the following hour, in which the vessel made good a course of 206° at a speed of 9-10kts, the skipper did not recognise the impending danger ahead.

“Although he saw a light off the vessel’s port bow during the transit, he did not associate it with the lighthouse on Ormal (Ve Skerries).”

The report found the skipper did not see the reefs on the radar display or on the chart plotter.

It adds: “Such omissions reflect a combination of an absence of passage planning, ineffective lookout and position monitoring, and possibly inaccurate or incomplete electronic chart data.”

The MAIB has made recommendations to the owner of the vessel to adhere to guidelines on safe watch keeping and on rest requirements.

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