Sussex RNLI remember Joanna C fishing boat tragedy on first anniversary

Newhaven crew members hold a vigil for the missing fishermen Credit: RNLI/James Johnson

Lifeboat crews in Sussex have been remembering the two men who died when their fishing boat Joanna C sank off the coast of Newhaven a year ago.

Robert Morley and Adam Harper lost their lives when the Joanna C sank

38-year-old Robert Morley and 26-year-old Adam Harper drowned when their boat sank on the 21st of November 2020

The captain of the boat, Dave Bickerstaff, was pulled from the water after he was found clinging to a lifebuoy.

The Joanna C had been fishing for scallops Credit: Martin Johns/Fishing News

The 45ft scalloping boat put out an emergency distress beacon at around 6am, with two RNLI lifeboats and a helicopter joining the search, which at one point involved 17 vessels and was one of the largest ever undertaken on the Newhaven coast.

Remembering the incident today, James Johnson, Lifeboat navigator, said : ‘When the pager went off and we heard it was an EPIRB from a local fishing boat, my first thought was - I hope that’s a false alarm. But it was not. Sadly our worst fears transpired.'

Ryan Poulton, Mechanic, said: ‘I was duty mechanic on that Saturday. It was an early call out. We never know what we’re going to get. We quickly understood this was the real deal. I kept my focus on the engine and dealing with Comms.’

It was a multi-agency effort, supported by RNLI lifeboats from Newhaven, Eastbourne and Hastings, HM Coastguard shore teams, helicopters from Lydd and Lee on Solent, fixed wing airplane, the Ocean Osprey, two Windcats and a fleet of local vessels.

Andy Bull, Mechanic, said: ‘After a while of searching you start to question, are we in the right place, while still looking and trying to visualise anything in the water that could be relevant. Then it was like a double-take. I saw him and called out: Starboard-side. There’s someone in the water. He’d got a hand up waving and was holding onto the lifebuoy.’

Jo Goode, Crew, said: ‘It was all action then. The team got him out so quick. We got him secure in the wheelhouse. Nick helped him out of his wet gear and into a thermal woolly bear undersuit, while I checked his stats. His feet were so cold, but he didn’t need any intervention. He’d coped with the cold water incredibly well.’

Alvaro Rodriguez, Crew, said: ‘I have seen how hard these fishermen work and what they give. I admire and I respect them. We are a fishing community.’

Newhaven Lifeboat returned to the station at 1.43pm on Sunday 22 November when they were stood down by HM Coastguard.

John Simcock, Navigator, says: ‘I’d do it all over again, without hesitation. It’s devastating to think of those lads out there.’

Lewis Arnold, Coxswain/Mechanic, says: ‘We have only admiration for our rescued casualty, it was a relief to see him. The loss of life for the families remains sad beyond words and today our thoughts are with them. We offer our deepest sympathies. Our commitment redoubles at Newhaven Lifeboat to saves lives at sea.’