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Tug captain jailed after crewmate dies

A tugboat owner and captain has been given an eight-month jail sentence after his actions led to the death of a crewmate in heavy weather.

The tugboat Endurance, captained by owner Martin Richley and crewmate Steven Trice, began towing 60ft motor cruiser Sirius M from the river Medway to Brighton, on 3 February 2013, when the Medway Vessel Traffic Monitoring Station (VTS) warned them that gale force 8 winds had been forecast.

According to a report from the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA), the crew elected to continue the voyage despite the fact that Richley was not qualified to carry out the passage, and the Endurance was licenced only for use in “favourable” weather conditions.

Following the warnings, the tug encountered gale force winds shortly before midnight on 4 February, and the tow line snapped, after which point Trice fell overboard attempting to reattach the line, and was lost. His body was not recovered until 11 weeks later.

According to the report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), “The attempt to reconnect a towline between Endurance and Sirius M was a desperate and ill-considered measure brought about by the use of poor towing practices, a disregard of the weather forecasts, and a lack of planning, risk assessment and emergency preparedness.”

MAIB also concluded that “decision-making and behaviour on board were likely to have been affected by fatigue”, and that “safety was afforded a low priority on board”.

Passing the sentence, Judge Ralls Q.C. said: “This was a catalogue of disasters, Mr Richly was prepared to take a chance…. it was a disaster waiting to happen after a series of bad decisions.”

Captain Andrew Rudge, MCA area operations manager said “This was a tragic incident that should not have happened.  Mr Richley should not have accepted to take on the tow as he was ill equipped, unqualified and his vessel was not suitable.”

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