The skipper pleaded guilty for failing to keep a good lookout after his vessel collided with a River Tyne breakwater in 2013

A skipper has been fined £5,000 after he crashed into a River Tyne breakwater when he failed to keep a proper lookout.

Robert Trueman, who appeared at South Shields Magistrates Court on Monday, was also ordered to pay costs of £4,536, a £60 victim surcharge and given 120 hours of community service.

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The hefty fine comes more than a year after the incident in December 2013, which saw Mr Trueman’s fishing vessel, Grenaa Star, hit the south breakwater before it began taking on water and was grounded on the nearby Littlehaven Beach.

Mr Trueman and two other crew had been heading for the North Sea fishing grounds when the collision occurred.

Officers from the Marine Unit of Northumbria Police attended the scene and ascertained that Mr Trueman had been alone in the wheelhouse while the other crew had been below decks.

Mr Trueman was found in the wheelhouse and had suffered an injury to his head, which was bleeding, and blood was also found on the wheelhouse instrument panel, with Mr Trueman saying he’d been thrown onto it during the collision.

The officer questioning Mr Trueman said he could smell alcohol and requested that the skipper take a breath test, but he refused, saying he was concerned about the vessel and crew.

He later admitted that the vessel had been on autopilot at the time of the incident and a breath test done two and a half hours after the crash found he was almost two times over the legal limit.

In an interview with police several days after the incident, Mr Trueman denied being in the wheelhouse at the time of the collision and tried to blame one of the other crew members.

He eventually admitted the truth in June 2014 and made a voluntary statement to that effect.

Following this, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) took the matter forward for a breach of maritime safety legislation.

The 55-year-old from Hartlepool pleaded guilty on Monday to one offence of failing to keep a good lookout as required by Rule 5 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1974, as amended.

In passing sentence, Judge Hickey said Trueman relying on the autopilot had been a serious admission and clearly he had taken a quantity of alcohol. But he said that while the custody threshold had been crossed, he was satisfied the sentence was sufficient.

MCA principal fishing vessel surveyor David Fuller said: “This was a serious avoidable incident.

“Over-dependence on autopilots is dangerous especially in confined waters, and in addition to ensure safety at sea it is essential to maintain a proper lookout at all times.”