A tugboat owner was given an eight-month custodial sentence after his crew member died trying to reattach a tow line in a violent storm.
Martin Richley, owner and skipper of 9.5m Medway tugboat Endurance, pleaded guilty to offences under the Merchant Shipping Act at a hearing today at Southampton Crown Court. Richley was charged with being the captain of a vessel put his crew at risk of serious injury/death and as the owner his operations were unsafe under sections 58 and 100 of The Merchant Shipping Act.
On February 3, 2013 the Endurance began to tow 60ft motor cruiser Sirus M from the River Medway to Brighton on the south coast of England. Richley was acting as skipper on board the Endurance along with Steven Trice
as the crew. As the Endurance left the Medway, Richley was warned by Medway Vessel
Traffic Monitoring Station (VTS) that strong winds up to gale force 8 had been forecast. Despite being given this gale warning Richley decided to continue on his journey to Brighton. Richley was also not qualified to carry out this passage and his tug Endurance was licensed only for use in favorable weather conditions.
Shortly before midnight on February 4, 2013, in gale force winds whilst on route to Brighton the tow line between the Endurance and the Sirius M snapped as they passed Beachy Head and whilst trying to reattach the vessels, Trice fell overboard and was lost.
Dover and Solent Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres coordinated the search. Newhaven and Eastbourne lifeboats battled high seas and violent storm force winds in their attempt to find and rescue Trice. The search continued for several hours, but Trice was not found. His body was recovered several weeks later.
In passing sentence His Honor Judge Ralls Q.C said, “This was a catalogue of disasters, Mr. Richly was prepared to take a chance…. it was a disaster waiting to happen after a series of bad decisions.”
Captain Andrew Rudge, MCA Area Operations Manager said, “This was a tragic incident that should not have happened. Mr. Richley should not have accepted to take on the tow as he was ill equipped, unqualified and his vessel was not suitable.”