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Court / Final day of inquiry into death of fisherman

King Challenger BA87
The King Challenger.

THE INQUIRY into the death of fisherman Scott Rennie, from Newton Stewart, concluded at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Friday.

Rennie died on the morning of 23 June 2016 when he fell from the 21-metre long scallop dredger King Challenger (BA 87) while the vessel was fishing to the southwest of Scalloway.

Giving evidence to the fatal accident inquiry, former deckhand Craig Hastings said that he saw Rennie being struck by the dredge bar while leaning over the dredging equipment facing the open water.

Hastings, giving evidence via video link from Dumfries, said: “I did see the bar hit him – not sure where.

“The boat took a roll, not a bad roll really, but it is normal for the boat to roll when the gear is still moving due to its weight.”

Being asked why his evidence to the inquiry differed from the witness statement he gave to the police immediately after the event, Hastings said he had been under shock at the time and, suffering from flashbacks, it had only become clearer to him over time what actually had happened.

Hastings said he had since stopped working on fishing boats and was earning a living as a taxi driver.

The fatal accident happened after the King Challenger hauled her gear and Scott Rennie went on the ‘tipping deck’ to unhook a damaged bag.

A ‘tugging winch’ is supposed to secure the dredge gear tightly before the crew begin working on it.

None of the crew were wearing life jackets at the time of the accident.

Rennie was quickly spotted in the sea, and thanks to the bravery of fellow crewman Darren Rennie (no relation), who jumped into the 10 degrees cold water to get a line around his unconscious crew mate, Rennie was retrieved from the water. He died, however, without being revived despite a quick evacuation to hospital by helicopter.

A second witness, Paul Jones, confirmed Hastings’ version of events. He said he saw Rennie being struck by the bar.

He also did not mention the dredge bar to the police when being interviewed by them on 23 June 2016.

Back in October last year and after two days of hearing evidence from a number of witnesses, the inquiry was adjourned because a possible additional contributory factor in the death of the fisherman had been identified.

On Friday, the FAI also heard from skipper and fisheries technician Arthur Johnson, who works at the NAFC Marine Centre, and who had been asked to give evidence to help the legal teams better understand how scallop dredging was carried out.

An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), published in March 2017, found that the 34-year old could have survived had he worn a lifejacket and if the crew had followed safe working practices.

The inquiry heard last year that the owners of the King Challenger, Kirkudbright based West Coast Sea Products, had made the wearing of lifejackets mandatory for its crewmen on all their vessels.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank is expected to publish his determination after procurator fiscal Rosie Cook and James Hastie QC, representing the company, have handed in their written submissions.