Pescado disaster blamed on owner

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THE OWNER and manager of the fishing trawler Pescado, which sank in 1991 with the loss of its six young crew, are severely criticised in the report of the official inquiry into the incident.

The inquiry report, which is published today, found a litany of failures had led to the accident, which happened 13 miles off the Cornish coast as the crew tried to recover fishing gear caught on the sea-bed.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report said: "The lack of a properly qualified and experienced crew, together with inadequate life-saving appliances which were incorrectly installed and improperly maintained, contributed to the loss of the vessel and crew. In turn, these contributory factors were caused by shortcomings in the shore management of the vessel."

Jonn Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said in a statement: "The report stands as a clear indictment of those who owned and operated this vessel who must carry responsibility for the resulting loss of life."

Mr Prescott said that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency might also consider whether, on the basis of legal advice, there were grounds for disciplinary action under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 against Joseph O'Connor, the Pescado's managing agent, who holds a Certificate of Competency.

In an unusual move, the MAIB said in its report that the Marine and Coastguard Agency should inspect any vessel owned or managed by either Alan Ayres, who owned the Pescado, and Mr O'Connor.

Mr Ayres was acquitted of six charges of manslaughter on the direction of the judge at his trial two years ago, while Mr O'Connor had a conviction for manslaughter overturned by the court of appeal.

Mr Prescott added: "All those who own, manage or operate fishing vessels are reminded of their responsibility for the safety of their vessels and the safety of all those on board.

"Those who are minded to follow the poor example set by Mr O'Connor and Mr Ayres will be pursued. We look to the fishing industry and fishing community to assist us in this task."

In its report, the MAIB also found that the Pescado was unsafely operated, her skipper was not qualified to the required standard, and only one crew member had undergone any safety training.

The accident and the length of time taken for the inquiry to be concluded has caused much local anger. Rita Capon, the mother of one of the crew, Jo-Anne Thomas, 23, has consistently called for a public inquiry.

Mr Prescott said that the delay was primarily due to the criminal proceedings initiated after the loss of the vessel.

The other crew members were Neil Currie, 28, the skipper of South Uist, in the Western Isles; Peter Birley, 34, of Fleetwood, Lancashire; Adrian Flynn, 21, of Lincoln; Steven Hardy, 30, of Plymouth, Devon; and Sean Kelly,17, of Brixham, Devon.

The report, however, ruled out theories that the Pescado was in collision with a submerged Royal Navy submarine or surface vessel or that it was dragged under by a submarine.