A TRAWLER captain who was looking at his phone instead of watching the sea when his boat washed three men overboard to their deaths has been jailed for 12 months.

Skipper David Brooks Marr, from Peterhead in Scotland, made a deliberate decision to risk a collision at sea so he could look at his phone, a judge told him.

He could and should have seen the other boat before the wash from his scallop dredger sank it, drowning three men.

Marr was distracted by sending WhatsApp messages and following his colleagues on a marine tracker app when his boat, the Vertrouwen, sank the James 2.

Her Honour Judge Christine Laing QC told him he had made the deliberate decision to risk collision, resulting in a needless tragedy.

Marr turned his forward facing floodlights on in a bid to put the responsibility for avoiding a collision onto other seafarers.

Brighton Magistrates Court

Brighton Magistrates Court

With the lights on his ability to keep watch was impaired.

The judge told him: “This wasn’t an error of judgment but a deliberate decision to prioritise other activity over keeping a proper watch.”

His catastrophic decision resulted in the deaths of three men, the judge told him,

The 55-year-old grandfather listened from the dock with his hands clasped behind his back as the judge described the three friends who lost their lives as decent, hard working, family men.

“All of these men had a number of children who have suffered perhaps the greatest tragedy a child can suffer, the loss of a parent.

”They were all decent hard working family men who were looking forward to a fun night’s fishing.

The James 2 light vessel was used by the Romanian pals. Picture from MAIB

The James 2 light vessel was used by the Romanian pals. Picture from MAIB

“The impact of the loss of those men on their families is enormous and their grief is unimaginable.”

The judge told Marr he was an experienced sailor and master who knew the regulations and the reasons for their existence.”

The judge told him she was satisfied he had made the decision to take his attention away from keeping a watch to look at his phone.

She added: “You were not far out from harbour.

“Why you could not have waited ten to 15 minutes I will never know.”

The judge compared Marr to a motorist taking his eyes off the road to send a text.

Marr’s boat Vertrouwen steamed straight at the friends night fishing on board the James 2 after he left Shoreham for Grimsby on August 6, 2017.

Fishing vessel Vertrouwen.

Fishing vessel Vertrouwen.

His speed did not alter and he made no attempt to avoid the 5m pleasure boat.

Romanians Mircea “Mitch” Ilie, 43, from Brighton, his brother-in-law Irinel Popovici, 41, and Traian Dumitrache, 51, drowned after their boat sank.

Only survivor Elvis Cojocariu, then aged 45, from London told Sussex Police Mitch put the tiny boat into a full throttle, 180 degree turn as they saw the lights of Vertrouwen heading straight for them but it was too late.

He was rescued after spending more than five hours clinging to a lifebuoy.

The court heard James 2 had the required lights despite not being built for use at sea and not being fitted with a radar reflector.

Elvis Cojocariu, survived a boat accident off the Shoreham coast..

Elvis Cojocariu, survived a boat accident off the Shoreham coast..

If experienced skipper Marr with more than 30 years at sea had been keeping a proper watch from the wheelhouse of his scallop dredger, he should have seen the men on a night fishing trip, a jury decided.

At the critical time, he was distracted by looking at his laptop, sending WhatsApp messages and talking to other members of the four-man crew.

In an emotional victim impact statement read to the court, Lacra Ilie, said her life and the lives of all the families touched by the tragedy would never be the same.

“James is now nearly six and I find if very hard when he asks about a his father.

“He asks me where he is and I say he is an angel in the sky.

“I lost my husband and my only brother.

“It s incredibly difficult to be a single mum.

“The hole in our lives and hearts be with us for ever,” she said.

Mircea Ilie, left, and Irinel Popovici.

Mircea Ilie, left, and Irinel Popovici.

Asked why he was the only one on watch when guidelines recommended two, he described the incident as a tragic accident.

“In this short period of time, this tragic accident has happened, I don’t know if there was two of us there,” he said.

“It’s all ifs. We don’t know.

“I didn’t appoint two people to be on watch that night.”

The sea captain told Brighton Crown Court his scallop dredger had set off from Shoreham to Grimsby with the minimum number of crew on board.

His two radar scanners should have been set at different ranges, he admitted, and he could not explain why they were not.

David Brooks Marr is accused of failing to keep a look out on board a vessel after three men in another vessel drowned off the coast of Shoreham

David Brooks Marr is accused of failing to keep a look out on board a vessel after three men in another vessel drowned off the coast of Shoreham

Data from the Vertrouwen radar could not be downloaded, the court heard.

A defence expert admitted the captain of MacDuff-owned Vertrouwen could have seen the James 2 from any angle and should have seen their lights.

Detective Superintendent Emma Heater from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team said: “David Marr was captain of the Vertouwen and he took the decision to be on a lone watch as they left Shoreham Harbour at night.

“When he should have been fully concentrating on his role, he was needlessly distracted by, amongst other things, using a mobile phone.

“As a result of his actions three men tragically lost their lives in an incident that was entirely avoidable.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died that night and I hope the verdict may go some way to providing closure for them.”

David Brooks Marr was found guilty of failing to set a proper watch.

0007; Vertrouwen leaves Shoreham harbour

0020; Vertrouwen changes course from South to South Easterly

0021:26; Mr Marr’s iPhone made a data connection with the Marine Tracker app

0023:43; Mr Marr pressed send on the departure message from the Vertrouwen to fisheries monitoring

0024:22; The skipper confirmed he sent a WhatsApp message to his friend Davey Watt

0025:45; Radar traces showed the Vertrouwen and James 2 merge

Captain Marr’s next boat after Vertrouwen was involved in the English Channel scallop wars a year after James 2 sank.

The Peterhead-registered boat Honeybourne III was among five British vessels in the channel when trouble flared with French fishermen.

Marr was legally fishing around 20 miles from the coast of Normandy when tempers boiled over and stones, smoke bombs and other projectiles were allegedly hurled at Scottish and English vessels.

Jim Portus of the South West Fish Producers Organisation said: “The skipper of the Honeybourne was forced to carry out defensive action in the face of determined French aggression.”