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Seafood company fined after fisherman drowned

12 June 2023

A SEAFOOD company has been fined £80k after a fisherman drowned when his leg was caught in a rope and he was pulled overboard.

Thurso based Scrabster Seafoods Limited pled guilty to health and safety breaches at Tain Sheriff Court on 7 June 2023.  

The prosecutor told the court that on 5 February 2018 the North Star (WK673), a creel fishing vessel, was shooting (deploying) creel about 16 miles north-west of Cape Wrath.  

Three men, including 26-year-old Mark Elder, were working in concert at a table to manually launch creel out of a “shooting window” by attaching the creel to a rope that was paying out aft of the boat. 

Mark Elder inadvertently became caught in a coil of back rope and, despite the efforts of his crewmates, was pulled overboard.  

It took about 10 minutes for Mr Elder to be brought back on board. Efforts to resuscitate him continued for well over an hour but were unsuccessful.  

The investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency found that the directors of Scrabster Seafoods Limited had no experience of operating and managing fishing vessels and when they had purchased the boat in November 2016 had failed to arrange or complete the required new risk assessment.  

The 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’ in respect of the regulatory framework that surrounds fishing vessel ownership and operation. 

The skipper’s position was 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.”