A trawler skipper has gone on trial after three men died when a small fishing boat sank a mile and half from Shoreham Harbour.
Two of those who died were from Brighton – Mircea “Mitch” Ilie, 40, of Elm Grove, and his brother-in-law Irinel Popovici, 41, of Barcombe Road.
Mr Ilie, a father of three, ran a bike shop, also in Elm Grove.
Another man, Traian Dumitrache, 51, from London, also died, Brighton Crown Court was told this morning (Monday 8 March).
The only survivor in the fishing party was Mitch Ilie’s friend Elvis Cojocariu, from London.
The trawler’s skipper, David Brooks Marr, 55, pleaded not guilty to failing to maintain a proper lookout when his scallop dredger, the Vertrouwen, just missed the smaller boat.
But the wash from the 144-tonne Vertrouwen, owned by MacDuff Shellfish, swamped the 16ft (5m) fishing boat and it sank in the early hours of Sunday 6 August 2017.
David Richards, prosecuting, said that Mitch had been on the phone speaking to his wife Lacramioara Ilie, known as Lacra, moments before the collision.
Mr Richards told the jury that the four men on the fishing boat could see two forward lights as the 86ft Vertrouwen approached shortly before 12.25am on a calm, clear and bright night.
They waved their head torches around to try to attract the attention of the bigger vessel which was on auto pilot.
Mr Richards said: “Mitch started the engine and tried to avoid the Vertrouwen by putting the James 2 into a hard 180-degree turn.
“But it was too late – just too late.”
It felt like a collision, he said, although a subsequent investigation found that the two boats did not make contact.
Mr Richards said: “It is clear that Mr Marr was entirely unaware of the James 2.
“It is also clear that the James 2 lacked much of the lighting that it should have had and that it lacked the radar reflective device that it should have had.
“But that doesn’t change the case that Mr Marr wasn’t paying sufficient – if any – attention to keeping a lookout from his wheelhouse.
“If he had, he would have seen the James 2. At or near the time of the collision, Mr Marr was attending to other matters. He was unnecessarily distracted from his duty.”
Mr Richards said: “The four men were shouting. They were signalling. Water was flooding in. Irinel and Mitch tried to bale it out with a bucket.
“Mitch shouted: ‘We’re sinking. Jump into the water.’”
They were not wearing lifejackets. Those they had were out of reach as the boat sank. The men tried to swim for shore.
Mr Cojocariu, who was 45 years old at the time, managed to stay afloat by clinging to a buoy until he was spotted by a fisherman five hours later and rescued.
His three friends drowned.
Mr Richards told the jury that the regulations and guidance required that two people should always be on watch during the hours of darkness.
And this was vital as the Vertrouwen left Shoreham because the presence of small recreation fishing vessels was not unusual – and there was a wind farm in the area.
But only Marr was on watch, having sent a colleague to bed.
Marr, from Towerhill, in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, said in a police interview that he had turned off the forward lights because they affected his vision.
But Mr Richards said that the prosecution did not accept this.
And Mr Cojocariu, an electrician, who answered questions with the help of a Romanian translator, said that he had seen the lights looming towards him.
Oliver Powell, defending, asked him about how much alcohol the friends had had. Mr Cojocariu accepted that they had been drinking but said: “I was not drunk.”
The trial continues.
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