A prawn trawler’s skipper died after falling into the water while trying to help a colleague who had gone overboard, a report has found.
Skipper Lachlan “Lachie” Robertson, 61, was trying to help the senior deckhand back onto the Real A Chuain in July 2021.
He had fallen overboard in adverse weather while trying to recover one of the vessel’s nets, which had slipped over the stern during heavy rolling.
The deckhand managed to swim back to the trawler’s stern where Mr Robertson reached down to grasp his hand and help pull him aboard.
However as he did so, the vessel rolled heavily again and the skipper also fell into the water, a Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report found.
Neither of the men were wearing lifejackets – personal flotation devices (PFD) – at the time of the incident on the evening of June 24, 2021, when the vessel was on its way to Mallaig in the Highlands.
The remaining crew member, the “inexperienced” junior deckhand, managed to get the two men back onboard – however by that point Mr Robertson was unresponsive and could not be revived.
The MAIB report said that, having seen the senior deckhand fall overboard, “the skipper’s action to reach down to help him in the water below was probably instinctive and without thought for his own safety or the consequences”.
It praised the “commendable” actions of the junior deckhand who managed to recover both men, transmit a distress call to the coastguard, perform CPR, and assist search and rescue personnel despite having limited experience.
Investigators said Mr Robertson’s chances of survival would have been improved had he worn his PFD.
The MAIB report found control measures identified in the vessel’s operational risk assessments had not been implemented immediately after the net was taken on board after the fishing operation ended.
It stated: “This allowed, with the deteriorating weather conditions, for the net to slip overboard, which led to an emergency situation that continued to escalate with dire consequences.”
The MAIB found the nets stowed at the stern were not lashed, contrary to the vessel’s risk assessment, the crew had not practised man overboard recovery, and the crew were unfamiliar with the vessel’s man overboard recovery equipment.
It said the crew viewed the net falling over the stern as an emergency situation and they focused on bringing it back on board without assessing the risks to either themselves or each other.
The MAIB did not issue any recommendations in the report given the existing extensive safety guidance already issued to fishing vessel owners and skippers, specifically on mitigating the risks of falling overboard, and the requirement for fishermen to wear a PFD or to have measures in place to prevent falling overboard.