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Missing fisherman’s family never gave up

THE FAMILY of missing Cunningsburgh fisherman Neil Smith have expressed their relief after finding his body tangled in a leader line of creels two miles east of Bressay on Friday afternoon.

Mr Smith’s family never gave up the search for the 54 year old who failed to return to Lerwick’s Morrison Dock in his 10 metre boat Breadwinner after a day setting creels to catch prawns on Thursday 20 January.

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A huge air, sea and land search was stood down after three days, having only found his abandoned boat wedged on rocks on the small island of Grif Skerry, east of Whalsay, around 20 miles north of where he had last been working.

Mr Smith’s brother Rodney managed to board the boat in the middle of last week and remove the hard drive from its computer. Using this, Scalloway marine electronics company H Williamson retrieved the position from which the fisherman shot his last leader.

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On Friday Rodney Smith and his two sons Brendan and Don boarded the fishing boat Quiet Waters, skippered by their cousin Ross Christie, and steamed two miles east of Bressay where they found Neil Smith’s body caught up in the ropes of his last leader line.

His brother William Smith said the family did not understand how the accident could have happened. Neil was an experienced and cautious fisherman who had never previously had an accident in his 40 years at sea, he said.

“He was very careful. A lot of people shoot out their gear at full speed but he always shot at three and a half knots, and that gives you time to react if something does go wrong.

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“But we don’t know what happened and we will never know what happened.”

Neil Smith had started fishing with his father when he was 15 and worked at sea all his life, apart from two years with Bristow Helicopters during the early 1980s.

After that short interlude he purchased his first fishing boat Crystal Sea and worked single-handed, later replacing the boat with a new vessel from Muckle Roe while retaining the original name.

Two years ago he bought the Whitby registered Breadwinner and worked prawns in the winter time, setting leader lines with 70 creels, while catching scallops in the summer.

He was known for carefully maintaining his vessels and just before Christmas he replaced the Breadwinner’s engine and gearbox. It is believed he may have been experimenting in a new area of seabed when he shot his last line.

William Smith described him as a “quiet” man for whom fishing was “a passion”. He was recently divorced and had no children, but leaves behind four brothers and a sister.

“It’s a great relief to have found him because you can have a funeral and bring things to a close,” his brother said.

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