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Heroin use involved in tragic death – MAIB report

The Diamond sank rapidly after hitting rocks at West Burrafirth last year. Photo: MAIB

THE USE of heroin played a part in the death of a 40 year old Lerwick man when a scallop boat capsized and sank last year, a Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report has concluded.

Leonard Scollay – hailed as a groundbreaking fiddle player in his heyday – died after the wooden fishing vessel Diamond hit a rock and sank in West Burrafirth shortly before 3am on 25 March.

Scollay and the 12-metre vessel’s 37 year old skipper, named locally as Chris Smith, were both recovered from the water around 40 minutes later – but only the skipper survived.

The Diamond was travelling at around 5-6 knots at the time. The south-south easterly wind was force 6, gusting to force 8, with choppy sea conditions and good visibility.

It sank rapidly “due to the damage caused by the force of the collision”, the MAIB report stated, which did not allow the two men on board enough time to collect their lifejackets before jumping overboard.

It was Scollay’s first voyage to sea and he had no sea survival training. The investigation also concluded that both men were “intoxicated by illegal and controlled drugs” leaving their ability to function “significantly impaired”.

Leonard Scollay, pictured many years ago at Shetland Folk Festival, died in the accident.

A forensic pharmacologist concluded both appeared to have been “habitual” users of heroin and benzodiazepine. He said the quantities of both drugs in his system indicated the skipper would have been “unfit to drive a vehicle of any description because of the performance deficits produced by the drugs”.

The report states: “The physiological reaction times of the skipper would have been delayed significantly, and the combination of benzodiazepines and heroin would have diminished any recognition of danger to a level of passivity.”

The skipper had no formal navigation qualifications, and on the night of the accident was not making use of sectored lights to navigate safely into West Burrafirth. The Diamond struck a rock, most likely to the east of Snarra Ness.

Wearing a flotation suit “almost certainly” ensured the skipper’s survival, but he had employed Scollay “without ensuring that he was appropriately trained”. The MAIB stated Scollay “was not a fisherman, he had no experience of working at sea and he had not completed any statutory safety courses for fishermen”.

A friend of the skipper, Scollay had expressed an interest in fishing a few weeks before the accident and the skipper offered him the opportunity to work as a crewman on the Diamond.

The MAIB stated that it was likely the 40 year old would have survived had he been wearing a lifejacket. However, having taken heroin before the accident was likely to have “impaired his ability to survive or to appreciate his predicament”.

It was 2.52am when the Diamond’s skipper broadcast a Mayday message, picked up by the Shetland Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), 41 seconds before saying “we’re going over” and ending the radio transmission.

Both men abandoned the vessel, aiming to swim ashore, and once in the water lost contact with each other.

Missing and displaced planks on the starboard side of the Diamond. Photo: MAIB

The MRCC tasked the local lifeboat and search and rescue helicopter, while nearby fishing vessel Diane Maxwell responded to calls for assistance.

Its crew spotted the Diamond’s life raft, but found it unoccupied. They then located Scollay face down in the water at 3.34am, brought him onto the Diane Maxwell’s deck and attempted to resuscitate him.

Meanwhile the lifeboat crew recovered the skipper at 3.43am. After 50 minutes in the water he was “cold and disorientated”, but the MAIB report noted that his flotation suit “helped keep him afloat and provided some insulation from the debilitating effects of the cold water”.

The two men were taken to West Burrafirth pier and transferred to the waiting helicopter, which airlifted them to the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.

CPR attempts continued but Scollay never regained consciousness and was declared dead later that morning. The skipper remained in hospital for observation before discharging himself that afternoon.

A post-mortem indicated that drowning was the most likely cause of Scollay’s death, though a heart attack or hypothermia were not discounted.

The MAIB report made no recommendations. The full report can be read here.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office said: “A report has been submitted to COPFS (Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service)’s health and safety division in connection with an incident involving a 37 year old man that occurred near Shetland on 25 March 2014. The report is currently under consideration by the health and safety division.”