Fishing company behind unsafe Joanna C boat fined after fishermen deaths

A fishing company has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 after one of it's boats sank, causing the deaths of two men. The Joanna C was not stable enough to stay upright when its gear snagged on the seabed and the vessel sank rapidly, leading to the deaths of two Brixham fishermen.

Fisherman Adam Harper and crewmate Robert Morley died in the sinking, while skipper Dave Bickerstaff clung to a lifebuoy for four hours before he was eventually rescued. A Government report, published in 2022, found that modifications made to the Brixham-registered scalloper meant it lacked the stability to survive the snagging.

The liferaft on Joanna C did not inflate and so did not rise to the surface to provide refuge for the crew, which the 2022 report said "adversely" affected their chances of survival. In addition, the boat's rescue beacon was thought to have become tangled under the hull and did not activate for around 40 minutes.

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The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said these modifications affected the stability of the boat, while left it unable to handle being caught on the seabed. A hearing, heard at West Hampshire Magistrates Court on Friday, July 5, heard that these "extensive changes" were not approved by the MCA and made the vessel non-compliance with the minimum stability standards. The vessel continued commercial operations however, without considering the impact and risks of the modifications.

Read a fully summary of the 2022 report here

Laura D Fishing Ltd, which operated fishing vessels from Brixham, pleaded guilty to failing to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a vessel was operated in a safe manner. Prior to the incident, the Joanna C had undergone a significant refit in 2019, including the addition of a whaleback, extension of the wheelhouse and fitting raised bulwarks. Laura D Fishing Ltd. was fined £36,000, and ordered to pay £69,284 in costs and a £190 surcharge.

Mark Cam, Senior Investigator with the MCA’s Regulatory Compliance Investigations Team (RCIT), said: "This is a tragic reminder that modifications to vessels should be planned and their effects on the vessel’s stability properly investigated using appropriate professionals.

"Companies are responsible for providing a safe place of work for their employees wherever that may be. The court has found that Laura D Fishing Ltd. did not take all reasonable steps to operate the Joanna C in a safe manner and this led to the deaths of Adam and Robert."