Crewman (28) who drowned had drugs in system when boat sank

Investigatory body urges campaign about dangers of intoxication while at sea

 The Garda during a search of Skerries harbour after Jamie McAllister’s fishing boat sank in May 2017. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The Garda during a search of Skerries harbour after Jamie McAllister’s fishing boat sank in May 2017. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has said the Government should consider a campaign to illustrate the dangers of consuming drugs and alcohol on fishing vessels, following evidence of cannabis and cocaine in the system of a crew member who drowned.

The MCIB investigation into the death of a crewman off Skerries harbour, Co Dublin, in late May 2017, found that both he and his skipper were not wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs) or lifejackets.

Jamie McAllister (28) had gone fishing for razor clams with his uncle, Keith McAllister, when their 9m-long vessel, Shanie Boy sank within 100 metres of shore, west of the Perch rock in Skerries on May 26th, 2017.

Weather and visibility were both good at the time, and the MCIB investigation found that the vessel rapidly lost stability when a dredge which was filled with stones became dislodged from the gantry.

The rapid nature of the incident suggested that there was “little reserve of stability in the first place”, the report has found.

It also says that if the skipper and crew had been wearing PFDs, it is likely that both would have remained afloat. Both men tried to swim towards the nearest yacht, but the force of the rapidly sinking vessel pulled both towards it, and Jamie McAllister drowned. His body was recovered the following day.

The report found that the RNLI Skerries inshore lifeboat’s rapid response and proximity to shore saved the life of the skipper. It noted that Keith McAllister normally fished alone, but had promised his nephew some work if it became available.

The crewman was not experienced, and the report said there are no records to show he had undergone mandatory safety training. His body was recovered close to the sunken vessel the following day by the Geological Survey of Ireland vessel RV Keary.

The MCIB quotes the provisional results of an autopsy report by the coroner which state there was evidence of “recent ingestion of cannabis and cocaine” by the crewman.

The MCIB report says the use of drugs is known to have an effect on a person’s cognitive function and behaviour, but the effect, if any, of the drugs on the crewman in this instance cannot be determined by the MCIB and is a matter for the coroner’s inquest.

A preliminary inquest hearing last March gave the cause of death of Jamie McAllister as drowning, and the Director of Public Prosecutions directed no prosecution in the case.

Update standards

The MCIB recommends the Minister for Transport update standards applicable to small fishing vessels to ensure they are in line with the Maritime Safety Strategy.

It recommends the Minister should consider investigating methods to prevent cabling from slipping down from gantries of similar craft in fishing, using dredges.

It recommends both the Ministers for transport and marine should consider initiating a campaign to illustrate the dangers of drug and alcohol use on operators of fishing vessels, and that both should rerun a campaign to highlight the requirement to wear PFDs on all fishing vessels at all times.