£80,000 fine for ‘entirely avoidable’ accident on Scrabster vivier-crabber

Scrabster Seafoods Ltd, based at Scrabster harbour, was fined £80,000 at Tain Sheriff Court on 7 June after pleading guilty to health and safety breaches that resulted in the death of a fisherman.

Mark Elder of Thurso, who was 26, died after becoming tangled in creel rope during shooting operations onboard the vivier-crabber North Star WK 673 (pictured above), owned and operated by Scrabster Seafoods. His leg became tangled in the backrope while he was toggling the creels onto the leg ropes. Despite the alarm being raised quickly, the skipper could not stop the boat in time to prevent him being dragged over the rail, and his fellow crew members were unable to save him.

Mark Elder.

The vessel was fishing off Cape Wrath on 5 February, 2018 when the tragic incident unfolded. The crew then took around 10 minutes to get Mr Elder back onboard North Star, and spent over an hour attempting to resuscitate him to no avail.

The court was told that an MCA investigation found that the directors of Scrabster Seafoods had no prior experience in the operation and mangement of fishing vessels. Furthermore, the MAIB investigation found that several crew members had not completed all of the mandatory training courses, including the deceased.

Evidence was also presented to the court that required safety risk assessments had not been completed, particularly as a result of changes being made to the boat. The MAIB also highlighted failure to wear PFDs, and the fact that no knife was to hand on deck to cut the rope.

Scrabster Seafoods, which had been run by father and son William Calder and William Calder Jr for many years, acquired the former Boy Shane from local Scrabster owners in November 2016. The 150t steel-hulled vessel, built in 1996, had fished mainly the North West crab grounds from Scrabster under previous owners, a pattern that Scrabster Seafoods continued.

The tragedy highlights the importance of mandatory basic training courses, which focus heavily on treatment and care of casualties recovered from the water and cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques. This is particularly relevant on vivier- crabbers shooting large numbers of creels – long considered one of the most dangerous methods of fishing, especially in severe weather conditions, due to ropes running constantly across the deck and the speed of hauling and shooting operations.

The safety recommendations 1in the MAIB report included:

  1. A safe system of work needs to be developed when shooting creels, ideally one where a physical barrier separates the crew from the gear.
  2. A sharp knife should be available in a readily accessible place. Had such a knife been readily available on deck, or if the crewman had been carrying one, there might have been an opportunity to free him from the backrope before he was pulled over.
  3. Had the crew member been able to free himself from the rope in the water, the wearing of a PFD would have improved his chances of survival in the cold conditions.
  4. Crew should all be aware of the contents of the risk assessment for each operation, and comply with the applicable documented risk controls.
  5. It is essential that owners and skippers are proactive in identifying the regulatory requirements and industry best- practice applicable to their fishing operations, and that individual roles and responsibilities for implementing a vessel’s health and safety policy are clearly assigned.

Scrabster Seafoods subsequently made modifications to the North Star to place a barrier between the crew and the ropes.

Debbie Carroll, from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, whose remit covers health and safety investigations, said: “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 promote 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.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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