At a hearing today, Friday December 7, at Southampton Crown Court the owner and manager of a fishing vessel were fined a total of £180,000 including costs after they had pleaded guilty to charges relating to health and safety offences brought under fishing vessel safety legislation.
On 7 January 2008 the UK registered fishing vessel Shark sailed from La Corunna in Spain with a crew of 16, mainly Spanish and Portuguese nationals. On 19 January 2008 the Shark suffered a severe accommodation fire while at sea approximately 17 miles to the west of Malin Head. The fire on board the Shark was extensive. It extended to the galley kitchen, and three cabins used by the crew for sleeping, to alleyways in the accommodation section of the boat and the upper parts of the vessel. In two of the sleeping cabins the bunks, bedding, furnishings and lockers were totally consumed by fire. The crew were badly affected by smoke.
A major search and rescue operation, involving UK and Irish Coastguard, helicopters, lifeboats and Irish Navy, took place. Fourteen of the crew were evacuated by lifeboat and helicopter from the vessel. The fire was extinguished by members of the Irish Navy. The Shark eventually made it to Killybegs, Republic of Ireland.
After arrival the vessel was inspected by surveyors from the MCA. Several major defects were noted, many of which were noted to have pre-dated the fire and affected the safe operation of the vessel. An investigation by the Enforcement Unit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency was started into the operation of the Shark by its owner, Generic Enterprises Ltd, and managers, Hooktone Ltd.
At an earlier hearing in Magistrates Court, the owner of the Shark, Generic Enterprises Ltd had pleaded guilty to a charge brought under the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 for failing to ensure the health and safety of the crew. However owing to the seriousness of the offence, the matter was passed to Crown Court for sentencing. At today’s hearing, they were fined £100,000 plus costs of £35,000.
Following legal argument, the vessel’s managers, Hooktone Ltd., changed their plea to guilty for a breach of the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 for failing to ensure the health and safety of the crew. They were fined £20,000 plus costs of £25,000.
His Honour Judge Ralls QC stated that Generic Enterprises Ltd had a high responsibility for the safety of the crew and vessel and that their duty had fallen well below standard. He also pointed out that Generic Enterprises Ltd had adopted a cavalier attitude to safety. When passing sentence He added that Hooktone Ltd culpability for the offence was at a lower level.
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