A SCOTTISH trawler skipper was looking at WhatsApp when his dredger swamped four friends on a fishing trip, killing three of them, a court heard.

The men drowned after David Brooks Marr failed to hear their screams or see their tiny pleasure boat and lights as he steamed straight at them.

Mr Marr, 55, from Peterhead was looking at WhatsApp messages on his mobile phone when he should have been keeping a lookout, a jury was told.

He was at the helm and unaware of the screams from the group of friends who were on a fishing trip off the Sussex coast when his scallop dredger Vertrouwen steamed straight at them at between seven and 7.5 knots.

Fishing vessel Vertrouwen.

Fishing vessel Vertrouwen.

Three Romanian anglers drowned and one survived by clinging to a buoy before being rescued hours later.

In the dock wearing a black polo shirt and using a hearing loop, Mr Marr heard waves from his trawler, owned by fishing giants MacDuff, swamped the tiny pleasure boat approximately 1.5miles off Shoreham near the Rampion wind farm in the early hours of August 6, 2017.

All four men on board the 5m long fibreglass boat, James 2, were forced to jump overboard as the wash engulfed them, a jury in Brighton heard.

The tiny Norman 18.5 is designed to be used on inland waterways only and did not have adequate lights or a radar reflector, the court heard.

Mircea ‘Mitch’ Ilie, 43, his brother-in-law Irinel Popovici, 41, and Traian Dumitrache, 51, drowned after their boat sank.

The only survivor, Elvis Cojocariu, then aged 45, told police Mitch had put the tiny boat in a full throttle, 180 degree turn as the Vertrouwen bore down on them but it was too late.

David Richards for the prosecution told the jury: “They caught fish after fish.

“Mr Popovici pointed out a boat about 1km away.

“They didn’t think there was any need to worry.

“All that could be seen were two bright forward facing lights.

“It continued to head straight at them.

“When it was 200-300m away, he started waving his head torch at it and telling Mitch to move out of the way.

“It hadn’t changed course or speed.

“They could make out the dark shape behind the lights and it seemed like they were going to be run over.

“The larger boat passed very close by.

“It felt like a collision, Mr Cojocariu said.

“They were shouting, signalling, water started to flood in.

“They tried to bail it out with a bucket.

“Mr Cojocariu could see no one on the deck but could see the lights in the cabin were on.

“The Vertrouwen, supposedly with Mr Marr in charge, carried on.

“Mitch shouted, we’re sinking, jump in the water.”

Mr Cojocariu was in the water for more than five hours before being rescued at around 5.30am.

The men had been drinking and were not wearing lifejackets, the court heard.

Weather conditions and visibility were very good and the Vertrouwen had been fitted with new radar and backup equipment.

The 22.5m long trawler left Shoreham for Grimsby on August 5 with four men on board by a coastal route and Mr Marr took first watch.

Data from the Shoreham radar showed the paths of the two boats crossing at 0025.

Sussex police found a message to his friend on Mr Marr’s phone timed at 0.24am.

“Mr Marr says his forward facing lights were off, we don’t accept that,” Mr Richards said.

“He knew those lights should have been off.

“The Shoreham radar shows how the two signals merge, the Vertrouwen carries on.

“They managed to get themselves something that floated.

“They shouted for help, continued waving torches but there was no-one there.”

Survivor Elvis Cojocariu said to make for the shore, Mr Richards said. “He saw through the dawn and was found at 5.30am.”

Father-of-four Mircea Bebi Ilie bought the boat weeks before the tragedy on his son’s second birthday.

He named it the James 2 after him.

They left the Riverside marina at Shoreham at around 10:30pm on August 5.

Weather was good and the sea was calm, the court heard.

Survivor, electrician Elvis Cojocariu, then aged 45, from Tottenham, swam for shore and was found clinging to a buoy by another fishing vessel at around 5.50am.

He was picked up by RNLI lifeboat and landed at Shoreham from where he was taken to hospital.

Mr Richards said: “It is very clear Mr Marr was entirely unaware of the James 2.

“He was not paying the attention.

“He would have seen and heard the James 2 and the men on board as he steamed towards them and close by them.

“He was attending to other matters, consistent with him being unnecessarily distracted form his primary duty which was to look where he was going.”

The bodies were not recovered until eight days later.

Mr Richards said: “Throughout the voyage, the master of a vessel should ask a couple of questions.

“What’s out there, what’s ahead of us?

“Mr Marr didn’t do that, the crown will seek to prove.

“He had little understanding of the operation of his radar.

“He failed to notice James 2 on the radar.

“He failed to see the James 2 ahead for the nearly six mins the Vertrouwen sailed directly at her.

“He failed to see the head torches or the shouts from the James 2 as he passed very close by them.

“He was either absent or failing to pay attention.

“At the time the Vertrouwen bore down on and swamped the James 2, he was sending the messages and trying again and again to send the messages.

“And on his phone, it revealed he was concerned with the movements of his friend's boat at the same time.

“He was concerned with doing other things at the moment the James 2 sank,” Mr Richards said.

David Brooks Marr denies failing to maintain a proper lookout in contravention of International regulations for preventing collisions at sea, 1972.

The trial at Lewes Crown Court in Brighton continues.