Fishing boat skipper found guilty over deaths of two crew after grounding near Ardglass

A fishing boat skipper has been sentenced to jail for the unlawful killing of his two crew after running aground and sinking his boat in January 2006.

At a hearing today in Belfast, Conrad Zych, the Owner/Skipper of the fishing vessel Greenhill was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for each charge of unlawful killing of Donal Gibson and Connor Bogues, with sentences to run concurrently.

Zych had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing on 20th May 2008. The two crew men were lost when the Greenhill grounded and subsequently sank near the entrance to her home port of Ardglass.

To date only the body of Donal Gibson has been recovered.

Admission of failure to keep a proper lookout
The 28-year-old skipper admitted that after a day’s trawling for prawns, he spent much of the return journey away from the wheelhouse working with the crew in the shelter deck, processing the catch, occasionally stepping into the wheelhouse to check their location before returning again to the deck.

The sea state was moderate with southerly winds and occasional rain.

When the boat grounded, Skipper Zych ran to the wheelhouse and put the engines full astern. The boat backed off the rocks sustaining serious damage and began to fill with water. The skipper instructed the crew to fetch their lifejackets from the cabin, but it was already flooded and so they launched the liferaft. All three jumped into the water. Only the skipper managed to climb into the liferaft.

At 2016 hours Falmouth Coastguard received a signal from an Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacon (EPIRB). The Portaferry Lifeboat located the liferaft from the Greenhill at 2120 but only the skipper was found inside.

The search continued all night for the missing crew, however no other survivors were found. Divers subsequently found the body of Donal Gibson three days later.

In summing up, the judge His Honour John Hart said that the skipper’s neglect of essential safety precautions could not be excused, and that his neglect to keep a proper lookout amounted to gross negligence and led directly to this terrible tragedy. He added that the failure to keep a proper watch is a not uncommon practice cannot exculpate the defendant from punishment, nor should it affect the nature of the punishment.

Captain Bill Bennett, the Area Operations Manager (Survey and Inspection) of the MCA in Northern Ireland said:

Fishing vessel skippers are not only responsible for their own safety, but that of their vessel and its crew. Keeping a good lookout is required under the International Regulations for the Prevention of collisions at Sea