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UPDATE: Purbeck Isle inquest verdict
7:50am Wednesday 9th October 2013 in Latest
A JURY inquest has recorded an accidental death verdict for all three fishermen who died aboard the Purbeck Isle.
However, the poor condition of the boat led directly to the deaths of the men, the inquest at County Hall in Dorchester ruled.
The jury decided that the fishing boat was likely to have foundered because of a number of contributory factors including:
*Flooding through the decking and poorly secured hatch covers.
*Poor condition of the hull leading to ingress of water.
*Loss of stability due to overloading.
Family and friends of the three fishermen, David McFarlane, Jack Craig and Robert Prowse, filled the seats in the council chamber to hear the inquest yesterday.
Coroner for Dorset Sheriff Payne told the jury that the inquest was not there to apportion blame or punishment but to try and find out what happened and draw conclusions.
He told the jury it was for them to determine who it was who had died, when they died, where and how.
The jury found that the Weymouth whelking boat went out on May 17, 2012 but never returned.
They reported that the body of skipper David McFarlane was discovered during a search and rescue operation on May 18 and that the body of Jack Craig, 21, was found off the coast of Devon on August 9, 2012. Robert Prowse, 20, is still missing.
The coroner said he had gained special permission from the Secretary of State and the Justice Department to conduct the inquest of Robert Prowse alongside his crewmates as he is still missing.
The jury recorded accidental death for all of the crew.
During the day-long inquest in Dorchester the jury heard from Marine Accident Investigation Branch inspector Michael Travis who read through the majority of the report.
In its report the MAIB said that the most likely cause of the foundering was rapid flooding as a result of catastrophic failure of hull fasteners, either in way of the hull planking or around the transom.
The jury heard that the only structural damage discovered during the post-accident underwater survey was at the stern were planks on the starboard side of the transom had sprung.
Reading from the report Mr Travis from the MAIB said: "Taking into consideration the material condition of Purbeck Isle, her recent history and her loaded condition, the most like cause of her sinking was rapid flooding resulting from the loosening or springing of one or more of the hulk planks due to the racking stresses acting on her hull in the choppy sea conditions nine miles south of Portland Bill."
He added: "It was clear from the vessels recent history Purbeck Isle’s hull and fastenings were in extremely poor condition."
However, Mr Travis said that it had not been possible to determine with certainty the cause of the foundering.
The coroner asked Mr Travis if the foundering could have been a combination of snagging of gear together with other factors like over loading.
Mr Travis said: “Possibly. Unfortunately we can’t rule out any scenarios fully.”
Robert Temmink acting on behalf of Purbeck Isle’s owner Christopher Barlow asked Mr Travis: “You accept no one can know the actual mechanism by which the vessel founded.”
He replied: “Yes.”
Several possibilities were looked at during the writing of the report including collision with another vessel, loss of stability due to snagging of gear or down flooding through the deck.
The coroner thanked the members of the jury for their help.
He said: “I am sure you would like to join me in extending sympathies and condolences to the families.”
Speaking after the inquest Andy Alcock, secretary of the Weymouth and Portland Licensed Fishermen’s and Boatmen’s Association, he said that the jury made the only decision they could. He said they were not there to apportion blame to anyone or any group.
He said: “It’s very sad these three lads have died, but what I’d like to see come out of it is the positive and changes in the industry and especially health and safety, to prevent this kind of accident ever happening again.”
He added: “Our condolences and thoughts are with the families. They have closure now.”
Boat owner's theory on sinking
THE Purbeck Isle's owner Christopher Barlow took the stand and read a statement to the inquest.
He said he felt 'sadness' and 'horror' of the tragic loss of life.
He added that not a day went by when he didn't think about it.
Mr Barlow used a model boat he had made to explain his own theory about what potentially could have happened to the Purbeck Isle and how she could have foundered.
He suggested a pot line could have got caught in the shooting door when the crew were laying down their whelking pots.
Mr Barlow added that together with the heavy loading of the vessel, it could have caused the boat to turn, anchored by the pot and water to flood into the boat and could have resulted in her foundering.
Summarising Mr Barlow's evidence the coroner said: "You feel there was sufficient maintenance carried out to the boat and you consider it unlikely the springing of the transom boards was the cause of her sinking. You think it’s far more likely to have occurred when she hit the bottom."
He replied: "Yes."
He said that the safety equipment on board was up to date and maintained.
Mr Barlow said that David McFarlane was not the sort of person to leave maintenance and health and safety matters to chance.
Skipper's family reaction
SPEAKING after the verdict Grace McFarlane said that the family had been waiting nearly 18 months for the inquest.
She said: “We have now got closure and we can now more forward, or try to.”
But David’s daughter Bethany said that no-one would really know what happened and the inquest had left her feeling angry.
David’s brother Steven said: “For us at the end of the day it was a tragic accident.”
He added: “Whatever happened, happened that fast they didn’t even have a chance for a May Day.”
Marine Accident Investigation Branch report
THE MAIB report also highlighted a number of safety concerns.
The report stated that the liferaft was incorrectly stowed and failed to inflate, and that the boat went down so quickly that the fishermen were unable to broadcast a May Day or collect their lifejackets from below deck.
It found that Purbeck Isle did not have an emergency locator beacon.
Pete Prowse, Robert’s father, asked a question to Mr Travis from the MAIB.
He said: “You said the boat was basically rotten- my words. It takes time to rot like that- why weren’t all these things picked up in surveys?”
Mr Travis said they had asked the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to bring their surveys in line with the working boat charter.
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