A seafood company has been fined £80,000 after a fisherman drowned when his leg got caught in a rope and he was pulled into the water.
Thurso-based Scrabster Seafoods Limited pled guilty to health and safety breaches at Tain Sheriff Court on June 7.
The prosecutor told the court that on February 5, 2018, the North Star (WK673), a creel fishing vessel, was shooting creel around 16 miles north-west of Cape Wrath.
Three men, including Mark Elder, 26, were working to manually launch creel out of a “shooting window” by attaching the creel to a rope that was hanging off the boat.
Mr Elder accidentally got caught in a coil of rope and, despite the efforts of his crewmates, was pulled overboard.
It took about 10 minutes for him to be brought back on board. Efforts to resuscitate him continued for more than an hour, but proved unsuccessful.
An investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) found that the directors of Scrabster Seafoods Limited had no experience of operating and managing fishing vessels.
The probe also revealed that, when they had purchased the boat in November 2016, the firm had failed to arrange or complete the required new risk assessment.
The MCA declared that directors had no substantive knowledge of the responsibilities and obligations that accompanied the ownership of a fishing vessel and had relied on the North Star’s skipper to “keep them right”.
The skipper said that he was unaware of the 1997 Regulations requirement to review and update any risk assessments.
The prosecutor told the court that after the vessel’s change of ownership, it underwent an extensive refit in August 2017 where modifications were made to the working deck.
The change of ownership, the relocation of the creel hauler and the subsequent changes in the method of hauling and storing the ground ropes should have initiated fresh assessments of the risks associated with fishing with pots or creels.
The primary risk likely to result in serious injury or death associated with this type of fishing is the risk of being snagged in rope when shooting. The recommended hazard reduction method for this issue is the use of “pond boards”.
These are wooden planks used to create barriers at deck level to keep workers clear of ropes.
Their use on the working deck would have given Scrabster Seafoods a way of providing and having in place a safe system of work for the vessel’s crew
Speaking after the sentencing, Debbie Carroll, who leads on health and safety investigations for the COPFS, said: ”Scrabster Seafoods Limited accepted liability and the Crown accepted their guilty plea to the contraventions of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
“Mark Elder lost his life in circumstances which were foreseeable and entirely avoidable.
“Had the required risk assessments been carried out and safe systems of work been put in place then Mr Elder may well be alive today.
“Hopefully this incident should prompt other employers to consider their duties and that failing to keep their employees safe can have fatal consequences for which they will be held accountable.”