Inquiry advises that safety gear is kept accessible

Thu, Jun 7, 2012, 01:00

An inquiry into the drowning of three friends on a fishing trip has recommended that life jackets, personal flotation devices and fire extinguishers be stored in an accessible location that does not require crew to go below deck to get them in an emergency.

Wolfgang “Mike” Schmidt (70), Richard Harmon (69) and Wolfgang Schroder (62) drowned near Adrigole Harbour in Bantry Bay on August 16th, 2010, after they abandoned Mr Schmidt’s motor cruiser, Castaway, when a fire broke out on board.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board found if the three deceased and survivor Ed Dziato (48) had been wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) when entering the water, the outcome would have been “significantly different”.

In its 44-page report, the board found while the Castaway had sufficient life-saving devices on board including six PFDs, a 6/8 person inflatable liferaft and two lifebuoys, they were not accessible and no instruction was given on their use before the trip.

It recommended reminding all mariners of the need to access lifesaving equipment from the cockpit of a boat, so it would not become necessary to go below for them in an emergency, and of the value of keeping a hand-held VHF radio in the cockpit.

The report noted the Castaway, skippered by Mr Schmidt, had set off from Firkeale in Glengarriff Harbour at 9am on August 16th.

At about 4pm it began to take in water. The crew were pumping out water when a fire broke out at the helm. All four were forced to abandon the boat, calmly getting into the water, but only Mr Dziato managed to survive.

The report noted toxicology tests showed Mr Schmidt’s body had a blood alcohol level of 152mg and Mr Schroder’s body had a level of 70mg. It noted marine shipping legislation prohibited operation of pleasure craft while under the influence of alcohol.

It concluded that the craft’s electrical installation was in poor condition and unsafe and that unorthodox modifications had rendered it potentially dangerous.