New Ross Standard

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Dead skipper's family to sue trawler owners


The ill-fated Maggie B is currently in dry dock in Arklow.

The ill-fated Maggie B is currently in dry dock in Arklow.

The ill-fated Maggie B is currently in dry dock in Arklow.

THE FAMILY of a trawler skipper lost at sea over three years ago is pursuing a civil action against the owners of the Maggie B and its former owner, Declan Bates of Kilmore Quay.

Skipper Glynn Cott's family are pressing ahead with the civil action after the Marine Casualty Investigation Board inquiry has found that the Maggie B was not licensed to fish when it sank off Hook Head in 2006.

Glynn Cott from Ballycotton, Co. Cork, and Polish crewman Jan Sankowski died, while the third member of the crew, Krzysztof Pawtowski, also from Poland, was rescued.

The solicitors for the Cott family last week confirmed that High Court cases taken by the family against Walsh Brothers Fishing Limited, of Garryvoe, Cork, and former owner Declan Bates, of Kilmore Quay, are going ahead.

'There are civil proceedings against the owners. They've been issued,' said solicitor Kevin O'Keeffe.

It is understood that Walsh Brothers Fishing Limited had purchased the vessel from Mr. Bates and were in the process of re-registering ownership in their name at the time of the incident.

The Deputy Registrar General of Fishing boats wrote an offer of licence letter on March 29, 2006 (the day after it had left Kilmore Quay on its ill-fated trip), to Walsh Brothers Fishing Limited.

This letter listed a number of conditions which would require compliance with before a licence would be issued, including the provision of a vessel condition survey report by a private marine surveyor for vessels in that category (15 to 24 metres) confirming that the vessel is in a safe and seaworthy condition.

It is not necessary for such a survey report to be received before issue of a licence offer but it would be required before issue of the licence.

That letter stated: 'I am to point out that this licence offer does not confer the right to fish. You may not engage in any fishing activities until a formal licence has issued and the vessel is properly registered in your name, at a Port within the State, as required under Part IV of the Merchant Act, 1894'.

In 1995 the vessel was lengthened to its present overall length of 15.72 Metres and converted for beam trawling.

The Maggie B was purchased in Milford Haven by its first Irish owner in 2003. From February 2003 to May 2005 the vessel was laid up in Kilmore Quay while work was carried out to it.

It was then operated out of Kilmore Quay until it was sold to Walsh Brothers Fishing Limited in early 2006. When operating out of Kilmore Quay the trawling beams were removed as the vessel was used for herring fishing.

The Marine Survey Office carried out an initial safety equipment inspection in October 2003 and this was finalised in September 2005 at Kilmore Quay, when the vessels safety equipment was found to be in compliance with statutory requirements.

A survey to establish the condition of the vessel prior to purchase was undertaken on behalf of Walsh Brothers by a private marine surveyor in February 2006.

When the Maggie B was purchased by the Walsh brothers it was intended that it would be converted back to beam trawling and a large number of modifications were carried out to the vessel.

The MCIB said there appears to have been a considerable amount of shifting/adding and removing ballast from the vessel at the time that the modifications were taking place.

The ballast consisted of steel railway track joiners and bags of lead. It could not be ascertained whether there was an increase or a decrease in the amount of ballast on board compared with what would originally have been in the vessel.

The vessel was prepared to go to sea by the skipper and crew for a number of weeks prior to the incident and Mr. Cott decided to carry out an initial fishing trip on March 28, 2006, according to the MCIB.

In its conclusions, the MCIB said that at the time the vessel was lengthened in 1995 an approved stability book was produced for it, but there does not appear to be any evidence to show that stability calculations were carried out to assess the vessel's stability taking into account the modifications and changes in weight which took place in the weeks prior to the incident.

However, a stability investigation to understand the stability profile of the vessel prior to the sinking was carried out by the MCIB during its investigations.

From that investigation it appears that the vessel would have complied with the enhanced stability criteria for beam trawlers.

The MCIB report also concluded that there appears to have been an on-going problem with bilge level alarms sounding on a regular basis. It has not been established where water entered the engine room and fish hold.

The report's reccommendations included that legislation for the construction, stability and safety of Fishing Vessels between 15 and 24 metres be implemented as soon as possible, which happened in September 2007.

It was also recommended that a Marine Notice be issued to owners and skippers of fishing vessels pointing out the dangers of making structural alterations or modifications to fishing methods or equipment without a qualified Naval Architect carrying out an assessment of the effects upon the vessels stability.

It was further recommended to Skippers and Crew of vessels that when an alarm is actuated on board their vessels that they satisfy themselves as to the cause of the alarm and assess the implications for the safety of the vessel.