Captain of grounded vessel confused, misinterpreted lighthouse light as mainland light

The skipper of fishing boat Coelleira (IMO 7023063) was confused as to the vessel’s position relative to the coast when he grounded her on rocks on Ve Skerries, an investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation branch (MAIB) has found. The 15 crew members were airlifted to safety by a Coastguard rescue helicopter. None was injured. However, attempts to salvage the vessel were unsuccessful and she broke up and sank.

The ship was carrying a catch of fish and about 15 tonnes of diesel oil but there was no significant pollution. The MAIB report found that the 56-year-old captain, an experienced fisherman, was confused when the vessel hit the reef at 01:24 on August 4th 2019. About an hour earlier he had adjusted course as the vessel headed from fishing grounds to the harbour at Scrabster, Caithness, sending the vessel straight for the rocks. His route was based on following the coast rather than plotted points. When he saw a light he believed it was on the mainland, but in fact it was the lighthouse on the reef on which he later grounded. He was keeping watch alone and was not in the wheelhouse when the boat ran aground.

The report found that the route had not been planned properly, that the position of the boat had not been monitored sufficiently closely, and that the electronic navigation equipment in use affected the skipper’s ability to monitor the vessel’s position and to identify navigational hazards. The MAIB found that no-one had maintained an effective lookout and that the bridge was unmanned at the time of grounding.

The report concluded that the captain’s performance might have been adversely affected by fatigue; he had only been able to rest for less than nine hours across two periods in the 24 hours before the grounding – and was due to carry on working for another 13 hours, which was against regulations.

The MAIB recommended that the owner of the vessel stick to guidelines on safe watch keeping and on rest requirements.

1970-built, UK-flagged, 210 gt Coelleira is owned and managed by Blue Pesca Ltd of Penryn, UK.