Death case ship 'rolled in trials on calm seas'

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A trawler that sank, claiming the lives of six people, had rolled so heavily during trials in calm seas that water came on deck, a court was told yesterday.

Sean Deakin, 27, the skipper of the Pescado for the trials in Plymouth Sound in late 1990, said he was "shocked" at the way the boat behaved. "I had never experienced anything like that in a calm sea," he said.

Within months, the Pescado sank 13 miles off the south Cornwall coast after sailing from Falmouth. Mr Deakin, who was not on board when she went down in 240ft of water on 25 February, 1991, was giving evidence at the Bristol Crown Court trial arising from the loss of all six crew.

Alan Ayres, 56, and Joseph O'Connor, 44, director and managing agent respectively of the firm that owned the Pescado, Guideday Ltd, deny manslaughter.

Mr Deakin told the court the vessel heeled over more than it should when fishing gear was lowered. "There was a lot of water coming on to the deck."

The prosecution alleges that the 100-ton Pescado was unseaworthy and unstable. It says that Mr Ayres and Mr O'Connor were in breach of a duty of care to the crew for their safety, which amounted to gross negligence.

The lost crew were skipper Neil Curry, 28; his fiancee Jo-Ann Thomas, 23; Peter Birley, 34; Steven Hardy, 33; Sean Kelly, 17; and Adrian Flynn, 21.

Mr Deakin said on a second sea trial the Pescado's compass was up to 90 degrees out. "Mr O'Connor never really had any time for anything I said. He always treated me with contempt," he said.

Mr Deakin said the vessel rolled "heavily and sluggishly" because he believed an extra fuel tank had been installed. "I was beginning to look deeper into the boat. The more I looked, the worse it got. It was just a bodged job," he said.

Mr Deakin said he mentioned a list of missing safety equipment. Two out-of-date life-rafts were subsequently lashed to the rails instead of being in cradles where they could float free in a sinking.

Mr Deakin said that when he asked when the Department of Transport would inspect the vessel Mr O'Connor told him: "Hopefully, if we can get away with it, he won't be coming."

Next day, with the boat ready for sea, Mr Deakin made up a story to get out of sailing. "I did not want to go to sea. I would not go to sea because it was unseaworthy," he said. In mid-January 1991 he resigned.

The trial continues today.