Captain's 'failures' to blame for deaths

    Three sailors suffocated in an oxygen-depleted compartment on a ship because their Hull captain “failed to discharge his duties properly”, a court has heard.Coxswains Finlay MacFadyen, 48, and Robert O’Brien, 59, and boatman Robert Ebertowski, 40, died after they collapsed in a chain locker aboard the gas industry support ship Viking Islay as it was working in the North Sea.

    A jury at Sheffield crown court  heard how Mr Ebertowski had gone into the normally sealed locker to secure an anchor chain. When he collapsed, Mr O’Brien went in to help him but was also overcome by the lack of oxygen.

    The court was told Mr MacFadyen raised the alarm and then tried to enter the small chamber wearing breathing apparatus but could not get through the hatch. He tried again, using another breathing device, but he too collapsed when it was dislodged.

    Mr MacFadyen was pulled out by a rescue team from the boat but a rescue team from a nearby gas rig was required to get to other two men out of the chain locker, which is in the bow of the ship. All three men were airlifted to Hull Royal Infirmary but were pronounced dead at the hospital, the court heard.

    Prosecutor Simon Phillips said Mr MacFadyen had told the ship’s master, Donald Fryer, 66, about the plan to go into the chain locker. Mr Phillips told the jury Mr Fryer’s response was “wholly inadequate”.

    He told the jury how the captain – who has around 50 years’ experience of seamanship – was charged with two counts of conduct endangering ships, structures or individuals under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The charge said he “failed to discharge his duties properly in such a manner as cause the deaths” of the three men.

    The Viking Islay was operating in Amethyst gas field, which is off the mouth of the River Humber, near the Ensco 92 gas drilling station when the accident happened on September 23 2007. The ship was operated by Aberdeen-based Vroon Offshore Services which provides emergency support for oil rigs in the North Sea.

    Fryer, of Holm Garth Drive, Hull, denies both the two alternative counts he faces. The first alleges he gave permission for the first two men to go into the compartment without ensuring the men’s safety. The second alleges that, whether he gave permission or not, he knew they were going into the locker and failed to ensure their safety.

    Mr MacFadyen was from Aberdeen, Mr O’Brien was from Leven, Fife, and Mr Ebertowski was from Gdynia in Poland. The trial continues.


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