Coastguard bungle delayed rescue after fishermen drowned

RESCUE procedures are to be tightened following an inquiry into a sea tragedy in which three people died.

A Marine Accident Investigation has ruled that a mix-up which delayed a helicopter did not directly contribute to the deaths.

However, the report warns steps should be taken to ensure the error is never repeated.

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The scallop dredger Aquila capsized off the Isle of Muck in July last year after its fishing gear snagged on the seabed.

Skipper Tony Hayton, 45, and crewmen Peter Hilton, 52, and Thomas Martin Sanderson, 52, from Mayport in Cumbria, all died. A fourth crewman escaped from the vessel and was picked up by a yacht after spending 90 minutes in the water, grabbing planks of wood to help him stay afloat.

A report on the incident from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said there was a 23-minute delay in getting a rescue helicopter to the scene when control of the incident was switched between two Coastguard stations.

It said while it is unlikely the delay affected the outcome of this incident, it could have had serious consequences in different circumstances.

The Aquila was trawling on the Bo Faskadale reef to the east of Muck when her starboard cable became snagged on the seabed.

The boat rocked and tipped and the skipper put the engine out of gear, but had no time to take further action before the vessel capsized as large waves broke over her starboard side.

The emergency call was initially handled by the Clyde maritime rescue co-ordination centre (MRCC) which contacted the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) at RAF Kinloss and a helicopter from Prestwick was alerted at 4:03pm.

Five minutes later, the Clyde team stood down the helicopter when it was realised the boat was in Stornoway Coastguard's area.

Clyde later told ARCC they believed Stornoway Coastguard had scrambled its helicopter, but in fact the aircraft was not called out until 4:22pm. The investigator's report said that, while the information was given in good faith, it was not correct and should have been confirmed before it was relayed.

It said: "MRCC Clyde initially responded efficiently and promptly when they advised ARCC of the requirement for helicopter assistance. However, once they realised that the accident had occurred in MRCC Stornoway's area of operation, they instructed ARCC to stand down the helicopter.

"Had the Prestwick-based helicopter been authorised to take off at this time, based on actual flight times, it would have arrived on scene 23 minutes earlier."

The investigators said Clyde should have retained control of the incident as it had four coastguards on duty at the time while Stornoway had just two.