At a hearing today at South Shields Magistrates Court, Robert Trueman, the Owner/Skipper of a fishing vessel was fined a total of £5,000 plus costs of £4,536.18 after pleading guilty for failing to keep a good lookout. Trueman was also ordered to carry out 120 hours of community service and to pay £60 victim surcharge.
On the morning of December 17, 2013, the U.K. registered fishing vessel Grenaa Star left the North Shields Fish Quay bound for the North Sea fishing grounds. Shortly after leaving, the Grenaa Star struck the south breakwater, began taking in water and was quickly grounded on the nearby Littlehaven Beach to prevent it sinking. The incident was reported by a passing vessel. At the time of the collision the Grenaa Star had a crew of three onboard.
The vessel was attended by Officers from the Marine Unit of Northumbria Police
. Once on board they ascertained that Trueman had been alone in the wheelhouse with the two other crewmen being below decks at the time of the collision. Trueman was found in the wheelhouse and had sustained an injury to his head which was bleeding, and there was blood on the wheelhouse instrument panel. Trueman said he had been thrown onto it on impact. The officer could smell alcohol and requested a breath test. Trueman refused, saying that he was concerned about the vessel and crew. He admitted that at the time of the collision the vessel had been on autopilot.
When Trueman left the vessel two and a half hours after the collision he failed a breath test giving a reading of 58 (legal limit 35 mg/l). Subsequently, about five hours after the collision he provided a urine sample which on subsequent analysis revealed a reading of 65 mg/100ml (legal limit 107).
When interviewed by police on December 24, 2013, Trueman denied he was in the wheelhouse; saying that another member of the crew had been in charge of the vessel while he had been below in the engine room. At the time of the collision Trueman said, he had been returning to the wheelhouse.
Once the results of the urine test were known, the police handed over the investigation to the Enforcement Unit of the MCA
. In June 2014 Trueman provided a voluntary statement admitting he had been alone in the wheelhouse at the time of the collision.
The investigation was passed back to the police as an attempt to pervert the course of justice may have occurred. Subsequently a file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service who concluded that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute. The matter was then taken forward by the MCA for a breach of maritime safety legislation.
As a result of damage received during the collision, the Grenaa Star has now been scrapped.
Robert Trueman pleaded guilty to one offence of failing to keep a good lookout as required by Rule 5 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1974, as amended. He was given community service of 120 hours over the next 15 months, fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,536.18 and a £60 victim surcharge.
In passing sentence His Honor Judge Hickey said Trueman relying on the auto-pilot had been a serious admission and clearly he had taken a quantity of alcohol.
But he said that while the custody threshold had been crossed, he was satisfied the sentence was sufficient.
“This was a serious avoidable incident,” David Fuller, Principal Fishing Vessel Surveyor at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) said. “Over-dependence on autopilots is dangerous especially in confined waters, and in addition to ensure safety at sea it is essential to maintain a proper lookout at all times.”