Warning after fishermen's death probe

FOUR fishermen died because a safety "weak link" designed to stop nets being overloaded snapped and caused their boat to capsize, it has been revealed.

FOUR fishermen died because a safety "weak link" designed to stop nets being overloaded snapped and caused their boat to capsize, it has been revealed.

Experts said the tragedy off Felixstowe showed the dangers of beam trawlers – and how their stability could change in seconds.

The team which investigated the loss of the 24-metre Flamingo also said the fishermen's lives might have been saved had they been wearing lifejackets when disaster struck.

Warnings have now been sent to beam trawlermen all over Europe to make them aware of the dangers of the "weak link" and the risk to stability, and the importance of wearing lifejackets.

The investigation into the Flamingo was carried out by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, whose officers made detailed inspections of the fishing boat when it was raised from the seabed after the tragedy last July.

The Flamingo, crewed by four Belgian fishermen, capsized in minutes in good sailing conditions about ten miles off Felixstowe and Harwich.

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Search and rescue teams found the bodies of two men floating in the sea near the upturned hull but the bodies of the others have yet to be found.

The crew were captain Michel D'Hondt, 32, Peter Coopman, 40, Franky Vanhondeghem, 38, and Michael Steenkiste, 17.

Thames Coastguard was alerted to the accident after receiving a signal from the 82-ton Flamingo's automatic satellite mayday system on the vessel.

The MAIB's 40-page report said the Flamingo was a beam trawler, which involves dragging huge nets weighted down by a large beam along the seabed to disturb fish and encourage them to swim into the nets.

It appeared the crew were cleaning their nets to wash out several tonnes of sand, stones and shells before lifting the fish aboard when the accident happened.

The enormous weight of the sand and shells caused a net's "weak link" to part. The link is designed to do this to stop the net being overloaded.

However, because the port net's "weak link" snapped, throwing out all the material, and the starboard side's link did not, the boat became unstable. It would have keeled over and within minutes capsized.

The MAIB said crews should exercise "extreme vigilance, awareness and caution" when cleaning their nets as the "weak link" increases the chance of capsize during the trawling operation.

"In this case, the breakage of the 'weak link', as the Flamingo washed her net of stones was the principal reason why the vessel capsized with the loss of four fishermen," said the report.

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