ALL FISHERMEN should wear life jackets at all times while working on a deck of a vessel, a fatal accident inquiry into the death of a fisherman off Shetland in 2016 has recommended.
Sheriff Ian Cruickshank said he hoped that the findings of the inquiry – launched following the death of Scott Rennie from Newton Stewart after he fell overboard from the King Challenger – will “assist in the future education and training of fishermen” and encourage a “cultural change” in the wearing of life jackets.
The sheriff also praised the “incredible selfless bravery” of crew mate Darren Rennie – no relation – after he took to the water on 23 June 2016 in an attempt to recover his colleague.
Thirty one year old Scott Rennie drowned after he fell from the 21-metre long scallop dredger King Challenger (BA 87) while the vessel was fishing to the southwest of Scalloway.
Lerwick Sheriff Court heard during a fatal accident inquiry that while standing on a tipping door to repair a dredge bag, Rennie was struck by an unsecured tow bar after the boat rolled.
This caused him to lose balance and fall into the sea.
Rennie went overboard at 9.40am and the time between him falling into the sea and being recovered was around 10 minutes.
He was not wearing a life jacket or a personal floatation device, nor was he secured by a safety line or harness.
No crewmember had fastened the safety chains onto the port side tow bar.
A man overboard alert was sounded by crew when Rennie was seen falling into the water.
A lifebuoy was thrown towards him but it could not reach him. A man overboard recovery harness was also thrown to Rennie but he lost grip of it.
Crew member Darren Rennie, with the “reluctant permission of the skipper”, put on a life jacket and jumped into the sea.
He managed to put the man overboard recovery harness around Rennie, who was at this time apparently unconscious, and crew members lifted the stricken fisherman on board with the assistance of a crane.
During this time a mayday call was sent to the Shetland coastguard, with the search and helicopter arriving on scene 15 to 20 nautical miles north-west of Sumburgh at around 10.08am.
CPR was carried out by winchman Alistair Drummond and although an oeropharangeal airway and hypothermic strops were administered, Rennie was “unresponsive to any stimulus”.
Rennie was airlifted to the Clickimin landing site and transferred to the nearby Gilbert Bain Hospital.
Further treatment was issued but at around 11am hospital staff “concluded there was no prospect of recovery”.
The inquiry heard that Rennie had been a strong swimmer but was incapacitated within four minutes of falling into the cold water.
It was said that the crew of the boat worked “regularly” on open tipping doors without wearing a lifeline or a life jacket.
They were also said to be “unprepared for the rescue of an unconscious casualty from the water”.
A Marine Accident Investigation Branch report stated that the vessel’s owner, Kirkudbright based West Coast Sea Products Limited, had prohibited crew on its vessels from climbing onto the tipping doors without the use of a harness and lifeline immediately after the incident.
It also instructed their skippers to conduct man overboard drills on a monthly basis and it purchased specialist equipment and implemented a fleet-wide procedure for recovery of an unconscious casualty from the water.
The company also made the wearing of lifejackets mandatory for its crewmen.
Sheriff Cruickshank said in his determination that no member of the King Challenger was wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) at the time of the incident.
“There has been a culture whereby fishermen have elected to work without wearing life jackets or PFDs,” he said, with some evidence heard that fishermen found life jackets difficult to wear in certain working conditions.
At the date of Rennie’s death the wearing of a lifejacket or PFD whilst working on the deck of a fishing vessel was not a mandatory requirement.
New guidance published in 2018 stated that “the MCA requires that, unless measures are in place which eliminate the risk of fishermen falling overboard, all fishermen must be provided with and must wear PFDs or safety harness”.
Sheriff Cruickshank concluded that there was “no dispute that reasonable precautions could have been taken which might realistically have resulted in the death or accident being avoided”.
He said West Coast Sea Products Limited accepted they had failed to assess the dangers of working on a tipping door whilst at sea, while they also acknowledged that they failed to assess and identify safe working practices relating to the repair of dredge bags whilst at sea.
“The evidence, in my judgement, overwhelmingly supports the fact that it is necessary for ongoing efforts to be made to help effect cultural change amongst fishermen in relation to the wearing of a lifejacket or PFD,” the sheriff wrote.
“Whereas I cannot conclude that Mr Rennie’s life would have been saved had he been wearing a PFD, evidence gathered from the many tragic accidents which have occurred at sea supports the fact that there is a markedly greater likelihood of survival when a casualty is wearing a PFD.
“A PFD substantially lessens the risk of drowning.”
He said given the efforts of the vessel’s owners to overhaul their working practices, no formal recommendations needed to be made in relation to the company.
However, the sheriff issued five recommendations with regard to fishing practice.
He said that fishermen involved in this type of scallop dredger fishing should avoid standing on the tipping door of the vessel whilst at sea to carry out repairs to dredge bags or for any other reason.
The sheriff also recommended that if fishermen involved in this type of scallop dredger fishing should require to stand on a tipping door, either at sea or in port, then they should wear a safety harness or safety line.
He added that all fishermen should be aware of the relevant terms of Marine Guidance Notes.
The court also recommended that all fishermen, being involved in scallop dredging or involved in commercial fishing more generally, should wear PFDs at all times when working on the open deck of a fishing vessel.
The sheriff further recommended that, in so far as it has not already been implemented by statute or regulation, the wearing of a life jacket or PFD, whilst working on the deck of a fishing vessel, should be a mandatory requirement throughout the fishing industry.
“From a local perspective, it is hoped that this determination will assist in the future education and training of fishermen,” the sheriff concluded.
“The fishing industry is the most valuable industry in monetary terms that the Shetland Islands has. Through ongoing education and training it is hoped that there will be a cultural change in the industry to one where the use of PFDs on the decks of fishing vessels is the norm, and accepted by all as a mandatory requirement. Promoting such culture change is to be encouraged.
“In those circumstances, given the fact that Shetland plays an important part in the education and training of fishermen, I consider that a copy of this determination should be given to the North Atlantic Fisheries College (NAFC) Marine Centre based at Scalloway.”
The sheriff also said he would “wish to record the fact that, in my judgement, all members of the crew of the FV King Challenger did all that they could to recover Mr Rennie from the water as quickly as possible”.
“In particular, the actions of Darren Rennie are to be acknowledged,” Sheriff Cruickshank continued.
“Mr Darren Rennie displayed incredible selfless bravery in the action he took in order to try to save the life of Scott James Rennie.”
Sheriff Cruickshank concluded his determination by recording his condolences to the family, friends and former work colleagues of Scott Rennie.