A tug owner was given an eight-month custodial sentence last week after his crewmember died trying to reattach a tow line in a violent storm.

During a Feb. 27 hearing at Southampton Crown Court, Martin Richley owner and skipper of 9.5m Medway tugboat Endurance pleaded guilty to serious offences under the Merchant Shipping Act.

On Feb 3, 2013 the Endurance began to tow a 60' motor cruiser Sirus M from the River Medway to Brighton on the south coast of England. On board the Endurance was Martin Richley acting as skipper along with Steven Trice acting as the crew. As the Endurance left the Medway Richley was warned by Medway Vessel Traffic Monitoring Station (VTS) that strong winds up to gale force 8 had been forecast. Despite being given this gale warning, Richley decided to continue on his journey to Brighton. Richley was also not qualified to carry out this passage and his tug Endurance was licenced only for use in ‘favourable’ weather conditions.

Shortly before midnight on the Feb. 4, 2013, in gale force winds whilst on route to Brighton, the tow line between the Endurance and the Sirius M snapped as they passed Beachy Head and whilst trying to reattach the vessels, Trice fell overboard and was lost.

Dover and Solent Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres coordinated the search. Newhaven and Eastbourne lifeboats battled high seas and violent storm force winds in their attempt to find and rescue Trice.

The search continued for several hours, but Trice was not found. His body was recovered several weeks later.

“This was a catalogue of disasters," said His Honour Judge Ralls Q.C. in passing sentence. "Mr Richly was prepared to take a chance ... it was a disaster waiting to happen after a series of bad decisions.”

“This was a tragic incident that should not have happened. Mr. Richley should not have accepted to take on the tow as he was ill equipped, unqualified and his vessel was not suitable,” said Capt. Andrew Rudge, MCA Area Operations Manager.