Search for skipper and crew of sunk Jersey fishing boat called off

<span>Photograph: Peter Titmuss/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Peter Titmuss/Alamy

The search for a skipper and two crew lost when their Jersey fishing boat collided with a freight vessel in the Channel and sank has been called off after rescuers concluded there was no chance of them still being alive.

An investigation into the cause of the collision is being led by Jersey maritime accident experts with support from the island’s police force.

A support vessel with a remotely controlled underwater craft is heading to the area to survey the spot where the boat is resting 40 metres down on the seabed to establish the best way of recovering it.

The Jersey coastguard offered its sympathies to the family and friends of the skipper, Michael “Mick” Michieli and the two unnamed crew members, who are from the Philippines.

It said: “We are aware that this is very difficult for friends and family of the men, and we extend our deepest sympathies to all those affected by this tragic incident.

“Ports of Jersey has commissioned a large offshore support vessel with a remotely operated underwater craft which is due to arrive early next week, to conduct a more detailed survey. This will inform the recovery phase of the operation.”

An investigation into the collision between the 18-metre (60ft) wooden fishing boat, L’Ecume II, and the Condor Ferries vessel, the Commodore Goodwill, is being led by Maritime Standards, an arm of Ports of Jersey, with support from the States of Jersey police.

Because the Commodore Goodwill is registered in the Bahamas, the Bahamas Maritime Authority will run a safety focused investigation on the incident, which happened at 5.30am on Thursday.

Don Thompson, the president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said: “It’s no longer a search for survivors.” He said the reason for the collision remained unknown. “They [the two vessels] would have passed each other hundreds of times in the same area.”

He said debris collected by other fishers suggested the collision was “extremely heavy” and the brunt of the impact was on the part of the boat where the sleeping quarters are sited. He said the boat was heading out to fishing grounds and it is possible that two crew members were in their bunks and one person on watch.

Andy Hibbs, the coxswain of the Jersey Lifeboat Association, said Michieli had been about to sell his boat to spend more time at home and fish locally.

Condor has said it would cooperate with the investigation into the incident, which took place before daylight in cloudy conditions. Its boat was en route from Guernsey to Jersey on its regular sailing when the incident occurred, north-west of Jersey.

It has emerged that L’Ecume II became grounded off the south coast of Jersey in the early hours of 14 May 2020 after a deckhand on watch fell asleep after watching YouTube videos. The boat was on autopilot and maintained a steady course until it ran aground, leading to the crew member and the skipper being evacuated by lifeboat.

An official report said the deckhand, a Romanian, probably fell asleep due to fatigue at the end of a 42-hour fishing trip when he had probably had no more than three and a half hours’ sleep at one time and the boat was not fitted with a bridge navigation watch alert system – though it said the owner had fitted such an alarm since.