Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Inquiry: Tragic sinking of fishing vessel Louisa was an ‘unusual and exceptional’ event

Chris Morrison, left, and Martin Johnson were two of the three men killed.
Chris Morrison, left, and Martin Johnson were two of the three men killed.

A hearing into the deaths of three Western Isles fishermen has concluded and a report of its findings is expected before the end of this month.

Martin Johnstone, 29, Chris Morrison, 27, and skipper Paul Alliston, 42, were asleep when the creel vessel Louisa began taking on water while at anchor near Mingulay, off the Outer Hebrides, on April 9 2016.

An inquiry before Sheriff Derek Pyle, at Lochmaddy Sheriff Court in North Uist, has been told how what happened to the stricken Stornoway-registered vessel was “a very unusual and exceptional event”.

The fishing vessel Louisa. Photo by Air, Rail and Marine Accident Investigation Branches/PA Wire

It heard how the vessel sank by the bow and foundered, probably due to flooding of the hold, with the exhausted crew all in their accommodation and asleep when the incident occurred.

Liferaft failed to inflate

The men who had worked to the point of exhaustion, having been fishing approximately 20 hours per day for four days,  didn’t wake immediately and once they did their liferaft failed to launch or inflate properly because its CO2 cylinder was empty.

Although all the crew donned lifejackets, Mr Alliston and Mr Morrison, both of Lewis, and Mr Johnstone of Caithness, became unresponsive through cold water immersion and were later found by rescuers face down in the water after the tragedy.

Fiscal depute David Glancy told the inquiry there had been “two competing bodies of evidence” regarding whether the cylinder that should have been used to inflate the life raft was empty or full when the boat left shore.

‘No conclusive reason’

He said it was also difficult to determine what caused the ship to fill with water and sink due to differing theories being presented by both the Crown expert and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s report into the tragedy.

The FAI heard evidence that suggested the boat flooded through “backfilling” but that theory was cast into doubt by a post-salvage test which showed all valves were in working order.

The MAIB, on the other hand, said the water could have got into the ship from the deck hose that was pointing through a hatch.

Mr Glancy said: “The net effect is that both of them, if they are considered to be credible and reliable, effectively cancelled each other out, so I have concluded that even on a balance of probabilities it’s difficult to make a determination as to the exact cause of the vessel’s foundering.”

“I think there’s no conclusive reason can be arrived at for the boat’s loss,” the fiscal added.

A fourth crewman Lachlann Armstrong, then aged 27, managed to swim to safety and later spoke of how he “cheated death”  by battling in complete darkness through water only a few degrees above freezing towards a shore he could not see.

The inquiry earlier heard how there could have been more survivors had the rescue services arrived on scene earlier.

Specialist report blamed deck hose

A previous report into the disaster by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), released in July 2017, called Louisa’s foundering a “very serious marine casualty”.

Lochmaddy Sheriff Court on North Uist.

At the inquiry, advocate Hugh Olson, who represented the MAIB, said the branch had reached some findings through a “diagnosis of exclusions”.

“What happened to Louisa was a very unusual and exceptional event because all of the obvious causes of water getting in such as damage to the hull or a valve being left open or some sort of damage, all of those obvious causes have been excluded,” he said.

“The investigation was a process of elimination and they were left in the situation where having eliminated all the other possible causes they were left with water getting in from the deck hose in through the hatch on the deck.

“It is a diagnosis of exclusion. It’s accepted it requires a very unusual and exceptional set of circumstances for that to happen, but the MAIB’s position is that the water did get in there somehow and if one excludes the other possible causes that’s the only one it’s left with.”

Findings will be published

Sheriff Pyle, who heard submission from seven parties during the inquiry, said he hoped to deliver his findings before the end of February.

Louisa was renamed Nimrod and returned to sea by a Cornwall-registered firm in October 2018.

For all the latest court cases in Aberdeen, as well as the latest crime and breaking incidents, join our new Facebook group HERE.   

Already a subscriber? Sign in