The president of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has slammed EU rules for “putting people’s lives at risk” after four men were winched to safety from a capsized boat off Tynemouth.
Arnold Locker said ‘effort restriction’ rules which log how many days per year each fisherman works were creating an “absolutely loony situation” and should be abolished.
The crew of the Rachael Jayne IV had mere minutes to abandon ship on Saturday night after a “freak” wave washed over their boat and turned it on its side.
Skipper Ryan Whitehead, 49, of Maryport, Cumbria, had time to send a brief SOS before bailing out in an inflatable life raft where an RAF helicopter found him and his crewmates 40 minutes later.
But Mr Locker, who runs his own trawler company in Whitby and whose son was at sea in 52 mph winds when he spoke, said small boats have a perverse incentive to work in dangerous conditions.
He said: “We are only allowed to work a hundred days a year, and it’s all electronically logged.
“If a vessel decided to leave North Shields at 5am, the clock starts ticking from 5am. And if you use one minute of the day, it’s deemed to be the full day.
“In days gone by, there are times they probably would have gotten out to sea and said ‘no, this is too bad for us today’. They can’t do that now or they’ll lose a whole day’s fishing. All that does is endanger people’s lives.”
The crew of the Jayne were taken to Wansbeck Hospital in Ashington, Northumberland, by an RAF Sea King while lifeboats and civilian ships converged on its location.
Rescuers found it listing 80 degrees to starboard – too far and sinking too quickly to get a pump aboard – and were forced to watch it slip into the pitch-black sea.
Mr Whitehead said: “It all happened in seconds.
“It was a routine day; we’ve done it a million times before. We’d just took in our last haul of the day. I was sitting in the wheelhouse getting lined up to steam ashore and land our catch.
“Just as I was getting the boat into gear, a freak lump of water just came from nowhere. I didn’t even see it coming, but when I looked back I could see the boat was full of water.
“Water’s hit us before, and the boat’s rolled over and come back again. I thought just rolling it would bring it back. But it must have been the weight of the water and the fish and the prawns we had aboard. That was at the point we made the mayday call. The lads were up to their waists in water, and I knew we were in serious difficulty.”
The father-of-two sails from North Shields for half of each year and works alongside his son, Daniel.
He bought the boat only eight months ago and named it after his daughter, Rachael, but says his business will be sunk along with it if insurers refuse to pay out.