Crewman was drunk, inquest told

By Doug Laing

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A trawler from which a deckhand disappeared a few hundred metres off the Ahuriri shoreline was about to turn back to port because the skipper had decided his crewman was too drunk to go to work, a court was told yesterday.

The evidence was given at an inquest into the death of fisherman Kevin Thompson, who was 39 when he died after falling from the Hawke's Bay Seafoods net trawler Jeanette soon after 3am on February 7, 2013.

Constable Mark O'Shaughnessy told the inquest in Hastings before Coroner Carla na Nagara that toxicology reports showed Mr Thompson had an alcohol level of 267mg per 100ml of blood, more than three times the legal limit for driving. There were also signs of methamphetamine and cannabis use.

He'd been drinking and smoking cannabis at home in Clive and then spent five to six hours at the Union Hotel in Ahuriri, where he had been involved in a confrontation outside the hotel.

No punches were thrown, but he did fall and strike his head on the pavement before getting up and trying to continue the dispute.

Witnesses said Mr Thompson held his drink well and was known to drink as many as a dozen stubbies of Tui without showing any signs of intoxication, and skipper Ernie Hayllar said he did not notice the intoxication as they met on the Iron Pot wharf and went aboard before putting to sea.

That was about 3.10am, but by 3.30am, as the Jeanette headed out towards the Napier Port breakwater, Mr Thompson was gone.

Mr Hayllar said he was in the wheelhouse when he noticed the mooring ropes and deck hose were still on the deck, when his longtime friend and trusted crewman would normally have had them stowed.

The skipper said he called to Mr Thompson, who left the galley to move the items from the deck, and tripped.

Mr Hayllar said he then spoke to Mr Thompson, realised he was intoxicated, and told him the fishing was off and they were heading back to port.

He headed back into the wheelhouse, but realised a few minutes later Mr Thompson was no longer on board. He stopped, plotted where the "splash point" may have been and radioed an alert to security at the port, who were so close he reckoned he could have shouted to them.

The Hawke's Bay Coastguard vessel Celia Knowles, the Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter, and at least three other boats were involved in a search, worried about the imminent sea traffic surrounding two fishing competitions that day, but it was not till just before 8.30am that body was found.

Mr Thompson, who lived at Clive with partner Belinda Black, their twins and his two other children, was not wearing a lifejacket but Mr Hayllar said it was not required to be worn at that time. Ms Black, who was away at the time, said she knew her partner was a regular beer drinker and cannabis user, but was unaware of any methamphetamine use.

Mr Hayllar said Mr Thompson's "alcohol consumption" had not previously affected his work.

He conceded he was "brassed off" when he had to decide to return to port because his deckhand was not fit to go to seas, but said it was "not a big issue".

Coroner Na Nagara adjourned the inquest to allow more statements to be provided.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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