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Marine / Salmon farm confirms loss of all fish in wellboat fire

A FIRE onboard the local wellboat Ocean Aquila to the east of Burra earlier this summer has been described as a “very serious and traumatic incident” by Ocean Farm Services, the company which owns the vessel.

No crew were injured when an electric fire in the engine room of the live fish carrier on 9 August quickly became well established, knocking out all sensors and fish support systems on the vessel and leading to the loss of all fish onboard, it has been confirmed.

At the time the Aith lifeboat was called to the east of Burra but was later stood down when the Ocean Aquila received assistance from another vessel and was subsequently escorted to Scalloway.

It only emerged last month as part of the Scottish Government’s fish health inspectorate’s regular update on farmed salmon mortality that all fish held in the well of the vessel had suffocated.

The live fish carrier Ocean Aquila. Photo: Ocean Farm Services

All mortalities were taken to a local incinerator for disposal.

Farm operator Scottish Sea Farms declined to give any details as to how many fish had died as a result of the fire, but the Ocean Aquila’s specifications state that the vessel can handle 32 tons of smolts.

The incident happened when young fish, one kilo in size, were in the process of being transported from the company’s Teisti Geo site to neighbouring Holmes Geo for on-growing.

A company spokesperson said the crew of the Ocean Aquila along with staff from Scottish Sea Farms on duty at the farm worked quickly to put out the fire and make the vessel safe.

“Regrettably, due to the nature and scale of the fire, this process took between two to three hours, during which time all fish on board died”, the company said.

Ocean Farm Services’ managing director Gibby Clark added: “Owing to the skill, training and quick response of all those present at what was a very serious and traumatic incident while at sea, thankfully no crew or farm workers were injured.

“The unavoidable loss of life of the fish on board however, was devastating for all involved.

Scottish Sea Farms’ area manager for Shetland Robbie Coutts was on the Ocean Aquila at the time the fire broke out.

Speaking earlier this week he told Shetland News said: “The crew and staff worked as hard as they could to put the fire out in a safe, timely way and get the vital support systems back up and running to save the fish on board.

“Heartbreakingly, however, by the time these systems could be re-activated, the fish could no longer be saved.”

Under a voluntary arrangement with the Scottish Government, aquaculture businesses have agreed to report mortalities on Scottish fish farms.

The fish health inspectorate mortality report for the period up to the end of August, published on 12 October, can be found here.

While all other operators give details of the number of mortalities for every incident Scottish Sea Farms does not.