Misadventure verdict for fishermen poisoned in Whitby harbour

The scene at Whitby Harbour.
The scene at Whitby Harbour.

A jury has returned a verdict of death by misadventure into the deaths of two fishermen who died on boat in Whitby harbour.

After hearing evidence into the deaths of Mark Arries, 26, and Edward Ide, 21, the jury found that the men had died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a cooker aboard the fishing boat, the Eshcol.

Her Majesty’s coroner Michael Oakley told the inquest that he would now write to the government’s Department of Transport recommending that it be mandatory for all small fishing vessels to be fitted with carbon monoxide alarms.

The inquest heard that the men, both from Northhumberland, had returned to the boat to the harbour in the early hours of January 15 after a 36-hour trip fishing for scallops

They were were found dead at around 9am on the same day by a skipper from another vessel.

A third crew member, Thomas Berry, told the inquest that rather than spend the night on the boat he had caught a taxi home to Scarborough to be with his girlfriend.

Mr Berry said Mr Arries, who was the skipper, had complained of toothache and of being cold, and that he had put on the cooker’s gas ring for heating.

He also told the inquest that something on board the boat had made him vomit, and that Mr Arries had asked him if he was sea sick.

Mr Berry, who is an experienced fisherman, added: “I have never been sea sick in my life. Now I realise what it was.”

Skipper, Christian Harney told the inquest that he became suspicious the next morning when he could not rouse the two crewmen for re-fueling.

He said: “I was banging quite hard on the door and on the steel work to get their attention, but I knew something was wrong when I rang Mark’s phone and I could see it on the dashboard.”

Mr Harney said he prized the door lock open with a screw driver. He added: “There was a lot of heat in there and to me it felt like a lack of oxygen. I noticed that the grill was on so I isolated it off.”

Forensic pathologist Dr Peter Cooper, who carried out a post-mortem examination on the men, said he found fatal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, but he said death in sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning was painless.

The inquest also heard evidence from boat owner Tim Bowman-Davies, of Milford Haven, Wales, who had unloaded the catch from the boat prior to the men’s death.

Mr Bowman-Davies said an inspection by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) carried out at the end of last year had given the boat a clean bill of health.

He said there had been a working fan heater onboard which he had used himself when he slept on it, and that on the evening in question he had brought up some new heaters, although he had failed to give them out.

The fan heater could have been run on a power line linked to the shore, although when the men had been offered the power line by the owner’s 15-year-old son Luke they had declined it, the inquest heard.

Anthony Brown, an inspector from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), said the fan heater, although working, was damaged.

He noted that the vessel had no toilet or fridge and that he didn’t think it was suitable for sleeping on on a regular basis,

He asked the inquest: “In the twenty-first century is it acceptable to go to toilet in a bucket on deck on rough seas?”

The coroner said he would also recommend to the government that there should be minimum standards of accommodation for people sleeping on small fishing vessels, as well as that the MCA safety inspections of small fishing vessels include checks to the cookers and heating appliances. The coroner also concurred with a recommendation in the report by the MAIB that the Seafish Industry Authority should educate fishermen about the dangers of carbon monoxide.