A fisherman who went drinking after bad weather delayed his trip to sea may have died after striking his head and falling into the harbour as he returned to his vessel in North Devon, an inquest has heard.
Jamie Barbeary, aged 37, was due to skipper the trawler Olivia Belle into the Bristol Channel at midnight on October 12, 2009, but did not arrive on deck.
He had earlier been seen drinking at a nearby pub after the crew onboard another vessel warned the father-of-two the weather wasn’t good for fishing, forcing the Olivia Belle to delay its trip from Ilfracombe Harbour.
Mr Barbeary’s colleague, James McAuley, said he was waiting onboard the vessel a few hours before its rescheduled departure when he heard a bang, as though someone had fallen against the boat, but could not find anything when he went to investigate in the darkness.
The Olivia Belle remained in the harbour after her skipper failed to show up. Mr Barbeary’s body was found the following morning, face-down in a low tide in the harbour, with severe injuries to his face and body.
The inquest in Exeter today heard Mr Barbeary, whose crew regularly docked in Swansea and Milford Haven, Wales, was nearly three times the legal drink-drive limit when a sample of his blood was taken, having been seen at the Waverley Inn, St James Place, Ilfracombe, from 2.30pm on October 11.
Colleagues also said there were some dangers involved with getting from the harbour’s fuelling berth, where the Olivia Belle had been docked, to the vessel itself.
Aaron Tinknell, skipper’s mate to Mr Barbeary, said it was not uncommon to jump over small gaps and to climb railings to get onboard boats. He told the hearing: “It is more dangerous in the harbour than it is at sea. Being at sea is as safe as you want to make it.”
Marcus White, skipper of Josie Grace, the Olivia Belle’s sister vessel, said he had previously raised concerns at the harbour with the size of the gap between fuelling berth and some boats. But he said Ilfracombe was also “one of the easiest” for getting off boats, at other sections of the harbour. He also said the owner of the vessels had “introduced a drink and drugs policy” since Mr Barbeary’s death.
The post-mortem examination found Mr Barbeary’s death was caused by head injury, and that he was alive when he entered the water.