Boat owner admits breaching safety regulations after two crewmen died in Whitby

The scene at Whitby Fish Market where two men were found dead aboard the Eshcol.
The scene at Whitby Fish Market where two men were found dead aboard the Eshcol.

The owner of a fishing boat on which two crewmen died from carbon monoxide poisoning while it was berthed in Whitby, has admitted two charges of breaching safety regulations.

But a judge is holding a trial of issue at Leeds Crown Court to decide if Timothy Bowman-Davies from Pembrokeshire knew a gas cooker on board was being used to heat the vessel.

Mark Arries, 26, and Edward Ide, 21, from Northumberland died on the Eshcol when an inquest heard they had kept the grill on to keep them warm while moored overnight in Whitby harbour in January 2014.

Bowman-Davies, 44 yesterday pleaded guilty to two charges, failing to ensure that the ship was operated in a safe manner and secondly failing to ensure that work equipment was maintained in an efficient state, working order and good repair.

But Judge Tom Baylliss QC is hearing evidence without a jury to decide how much the defendant knew. “The primary issue is whether he knew the cooker or hob was being used as a source of heat, if he thought it was simply being used for cooking that effects his culpability.”

James Leonard, prosecuting for the Maritime and Coastguard agency called Jake Bowman-Davies as the first witness. Now aged 19, he was 15 at the time he discovered the bodies on board the Eshcol.

The teenager told the court his father had three fishing boats working out of Whitby in January 2014, he was on one of the others which was scallop dredging. The previous night after catches were unloaded the other two boats had hooked up to the electric system but those on board the Eshcol had not done so.

The Eshcol was due to refuel third that morning after the other two but nobody appeared so he went on board. He said when he went into the wheelhouse “there was like a vapoury smoke, there was like no air.”

He said it was warm “there was like a fog, you could see there was something in the air.” The grill was on and one of the others he had turned it off.

He said they tried to wake Mark, who was the skipper and Edward without success and the police were called.

The teenager, who said he had been fishing since he was 10, knew that each of the three vessels was provided with a fan heater for warmth and could access power from the engine, a generator or an electric hook-up in the harbour.

He told the court that he offered the two men a power cable after they moored at Whitby but they refused. He left them after discussing moving off to Amble later that morning.

Judge Bayliss heard that Mr Bowman-Davies provided two witness statements to police in April that year in which he said he and his father were aware the cooker was used as a heater on the Eshcol on some occasions but only ever used in “short bursts” of 10 or 15 minutes.

But the teenager who said he received little formal education and at that time had some difficulties reading and writing, denied in court on Monday telling the police that and said he had not read the statements before signing them.

“I never said that to him,” he said. In his evidence at court he said he had once found the cooker on in the Eshcol when the vessel was being operated by a previous skipper, he had not seen food on it and did not know what it was being used for.

He said he had never mentioned that to his father and his father would not be aware of that at any stage. His father was not on the boats only arrived to transport the catch after it was off-loaded.

After the inquest the Coroner said he would be recommending that all small fishing vessels were fitted with carbon monoxide alarms.

The hearing continues.