WHITBY’S fishing community was in a sombre mood as news emerged that two scallop fishermen had died on board a boat in the harbour.

Police were called to the mooring near Whitby's West Pier, opposite the Magpie Cafe, at 9.55am today (Wednesday, January 15), where the bodies of two young men had been discovered on board a fishing boat. They were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

It is believed they were amongst a party of four or five vessels registered in Milford Haven in South Wales, visiting the area to catch scallops. It is believed some of the men may have been from Northumberland.

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Speculation throughout the town today (Wednesday, January 15) was that they may have been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, as the two men slept the night on their boat using some form of gas heater for warmth.

But police said the cause of death would not be confirmed until further investigations had been carried out.

The incident has thrown light on some of the difficult circumstances crews of small fishing boats operate in.

Many fishermen in the coastal town said it was common for visiting fishermen to stay on their boats overnight to save money, because of the financial state of the industry.

Many of the boats are small, with sparse living space, as vessels longer than 10m require a more costly fishing licence.

Speaking in the Whitby Fishermen’s Society Football Club, where members of the fishing community meet for a drink, Pete Leadley, a semi-retired fishermen, said: “There’s a group of four or five boats from Milford Haven that come up and they all live onboard.

"They’ve been here for weeks at a time. They were only young lads. With all the restrictions on fishing, these boats have to be less than 10 metres. The guys moor up and sleep on them, but they’re not big enough to live on.

“Fishing is a very close community. It’s very sad.”

He said people came from way beyond the region to fish for scallops and lobsters near Whitby, but there was not a lot of money in the trade.

“The industry is absolutely done for here,” he said.

“There’s not many trawlers round here now, so most lads fish here with pots for lobsters and things.

“They maybe get to know on the grapevine there’s a few scallops up here in the area and all follow them round the coast.”

James Price, who operates the town’s swing bridge, said the group were known to local fishermen, as they stayed in the area for months at a time.

“They come a certain periods of the season to fish for scallops for three or four months - four or five of them at a time – and then go back. They landed last night and obviously they turned in for the night and that must be when it happened.”

Lifeboat crews with the RNLI were contacted and an inshore lifeboat from the opposite side of the harbour was called to remove the two bodies.

The Health and Safety Executive and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch have been informed of the deaths.

David Smith, Rector of Whitby and chaplain of the Whitby Lifeboat Station said: “People will be devastated, the fact that something has happened at sea. You don’t expect things to happen in the safety of your own boat.”