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Man admits failing to keep proper lookout prior to shellfish boat tragedy

THE MASTER of a Shetland shellfish boat has admitted failing to preserve a crewman’s life by neglecting to keep a proper lookout before the vessel hit rocks and sank off West Burrafirth.

Christopher Smith, 39, of Glenburn Road, Hamnavoe, Burra, pleaded guilty to the charge, which related to an incident on board the Lerwick-registered wooden boat Diamond in the early hours of 25 March 2014.

It resulted in the tragic death of 40 year old Lerwick man Leonard Scollay off the west coast of the Shetland mainland.

Appearing at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Tuesday, Smith pleaded guilty to an amended charge of failing to preserve Scollay from death or serious injury by “neglecting your duty to keep a proper lookout by sight and hearing and by all available means” – resulting in the ship running aground on the entrance to West Burrafirth harbour.  

Procurator fiscal Gary Aitken said Smith took the vessel out from Scalloway Harbour on the evening of 24 March. Scollay was the only other person on board.

Weather conditions deteriorated, with strong winds and heavy seas, and the 12-metre vessel hit a rock shortly before 3am. Scollay then made a Mayday call to the coastguard, adding “I don’t think we are going to make it to the pier.”

That was the last communication before the vessel sank. The coastguard, lifeboat and nearby fishing vessel Diane Maxwell responded, and crew from the latter boat found Scollay lying face down in the water. He was found to be unresponsive and wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.

Just before 4am the lifeboat recovered Smith from the water and both were taken to the Gilbert Bain Hospital. Attempts to resuscitate Scollay were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 7.10am as a result of being immersed in the water. Aitken said drowning was the most likely cause.

The fiscal said Smith had a lengthy background in the fishing industry. He had purchased the Diamond from South Shields around 18 months earlier, but subsequently cancelled its insurance policy and had not reinstated it.

After the pair ended up in the water, Smith had attempted to reach Scollay but wasn’t able to due to the sea swell.

But, the fiscal said, had he followed the navigation lights leading into the harbour the boat would have found a safe passage back to shore.

The three-light system at the harbour entrance was a “fairly straightforward and easily-used one that masters should be readily able to comply with”.

Defence agent Martin Morrow said his client considered Scollay a good friend and he had found the tragedy very upsetting.

Sheriff Philip Mann bailed Smith until 12 October, deferring sentence so that a criminal justice social inquiry report can be prepared.  “All sentencing options are open to me,” he added.

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