Toothache led to tragedy on boat

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A SEA captain’s toothache led to a carbon monoxide tragedy which killed himself and his crewmate in their bunks, an inquest heard yesterday.

One of the victims, skipper Mark Arries, 26, lit the grill on a gas cooker in the wheelhouse of his boat because he thought the warmth would ease the pain from a bad tooth, the hearing was told.

Mr Arries then went to sleep with crewmate Edward Idle, 21, leaving the cooker on to take the chill off the January night while they were tied up in Whitby harbour on board the Eshcol.

Mr Arries, from Blyth, and Mr Ide, 21, from Amble, both Northumberland, died in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning, the hearing at Scarborough Town Hall was told.

The coroner heard that Mr Arries had complained to a colleague he “couldn’t get warm” and that was why he lit the stove at sea and while at the quayside.

Crewmate Thomas Berry, of Salisbury Street, Scarborough, was the only one spared after deciding to go home for the night. He said: “Mark only lit the top burner on the cooker while at sea because he had toothache.

“He’d had toothache for days and was taking some tablets for it.”

The hearing was told there were warning signs that something was wrong with the cooker but Mr Berry did not realise anything was amiss until after the double tragedy.

He told the hearing: “I felt sick. I was spewing up everything I drank on the floor. Mark said to me ‘You’re seasick.’ I said ‘I’ve never been seasick in my life’.”

The tragedy was discovered at 9am when owner’s son Jake Davies, then 15, working on an adjacent boat, woke to see no signs of life on the Eshcol.

He and a colleague tried banging on the locked-up wheelhouse and ringing Mr Arries on his mobile phone before forcing the door open with a screwdriver.

They found the grill was switched on on the stove by the door, which when open provided the only ventilation to the sleeping quarters below.

Jake said: “It was quite warm. There was vaporous smoke everywhere from the cooker.”

They then went downstairs to the bunk area in the bow. Mr Arries was dead in the bottom bunk and Mr Idle’s body was in the bed above.

Owner Tim Bowman-Davies, from Milford Haven, said he intended to replace the cooker on the ten-year-old boat in a refit this summer. But the vessel had at least two safety inspections in 2013 and he was not aware of any problems.

Mr Bowman-Davies had since fitted carbon monoxide detectors but they were not required by regulations and he had never heard of a carbon monoxide tragedy at sea in 30 years in the industry.

The inquest was told the Eshcol had been inspected two or three times by the Coastguard Agency.

But Anthony Brown, of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, said the focus was on life- saving equipment.

It was the responsibility of the owner to maintain other gear and the coastguards could only provide a check.

The cause of the tragedy was the gas cooker which had been purchased in 2009 and “did not look like it had been serviced,” he added.

A jury concluded that the deaths were cases of misadventure.

Coroner Michael Oakley said he would write to the Coastguard Agency calling for the rules to be tightened on sleeping on boats, for carbon monoxide detectors to be compulsory for fishing vessels and checks on cookers to be part of safety inspections.