The captain of a fishing boat that collided with a Chinese-registered merchant ship off the Kerry coast has denied in the High Court that he caused the accident all by himself.
Joaquin Maria Antelo Madale, captain of the French-registered Kirrixhi trawler, also denied he was travelling at a dangerous speed when the front of his vessel collided with the side of the 229m bulk carrier, the Hong Kong-registered Hua Sheng Hai.
He also told the judge hearing the case that since the accident, some 24 nautical miles from the Blasket Islands around midnight on October 11th/12th of 2019, he had changed his practice and when lowering fishing gear into the water “I am now constantly looking to the bow [front]“.
He told the court on Thursday he was not looking forward because he was focused on the dangerous operation of letting out fishing nets behind his own boat.
[ Collision of ships in night off Kerry coast could have led to environmental disaster, court hears ]
On Friday, he was under continuing cross-examination by David Conlan Smyth SC, for the Hua Sheng Hai owners. It was the fourth day of the case in which each vessel’s owner blames the other for the accident.
Speaking via video link through a Spanish interpreter, Capt Antelo Madele said the 229m-long bulk carrier should have manoeuvred out of the way and should have seen lights on his 37m fishing trawler.
Asked by counsel why he said his boat was “hit” when the trawler drove straight at the Chinese ship, he said the Hua Sheng Hai did not manoeuvre. Instead, he said: “It intercepted and got in the way of our working area.”
Put to him by counsel that the different lights that were on the trawler were confusing to other vessels, he replied that when a boat had its lights on others would be on the lookout for it.
“So you are telling the court, it does not matter what you do, somebody else has to keep a lookout, is that your case?” counsel asked. He replied: “That is what the legislation says. When I am fishing, my manoeuvres are restricted and they [other vessels] have to take that into account.”
Counsel said a smaller vessel like his trawler was better able to manoeuvre than the bulk carrier. The witness replied that other big ships had manoeuvred out of the way of his vessel while it was fishing.
He was asked why he did not have his electronic monitoring alarms on including the AIS (automatic identification system) which supplements marine radar as the primary method for collision avoidance and would have told other ships that the Kirrichi was fishing.
[ Prawns ‘don’t like the dark’, says trawler owner who denies fishermen’s claims of 20-hour work days ]
He said the radar was on and so was the AIS but he said he “never” set AIS to show the vessel was for fishing. He said: “We were forced into having AIS by the French government” and he objected to it.
Counsel put it to him “You were travelling at a dangerous speed in all of the circumstances” when the collision occurred. He replied: “Why would that be dangerous? That is the speed to go at when setting the [fishing] gear.”
“I put it to you, you could have changed course,” counsel said. “Why did the Chinese vessel not change course?” he replied.
“You could also have slowed down,” counsel said. “And I could have disconnected all the cables and left everything behind,” he responded.
“You caused the accident all by yourself,” counsel said. “You may say that. I don’t,” he replied.
Capt Dominic Simpson, a marine expert called by the Hua Sheng Hai side, said that if the trawler had hit the bulk carrier below the water line at the ship’s oil tank, it could have led to an environmental disaster.
The case continues next week before Mr Justice Denis McDonald.