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Court / Floating device would likely not have saved fisherman, inquiry hears

A FISHERMAN who fell overboard from a local whitefish trawler is unlikely to have survived even if he had worn his personal flotation device (PFD) correctly, an inquiry into his death heard on Tuesday.

Edison Lacaste died after falling into the water while carrying out repairs to fishing gear on the twin rigger Copious in the early hours of 18 February 2021.

The crew instantly responded to the incident by throwing a floating mooring rope but the 45-year-old Philippine national became unresponsive within two to three minutes.

The second day of a Fatal Accident Inquiry held at Lerwick Sheriff Court also heard that the owners of the fishing vessel, 60 North Fishing (Shetland) Ltd, had complied with all necessary maritime health and safety requirements, and had held and recorded man overboard drills on a regular basis.

Edison (Joseph) Lacaste died when he fell overboard from the whitefish trawler Copious on 18 February 2021.

Senior maritime investigator with the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Mark Flavell, told the inquiry that following his investigation of the circumstances of the tragic death he had concluded that there was no merit in considering prosecution against the skipper or the owners of the Copious.

The hearing heard that while trying to fit a shackle to a loose wire trailing behind the vessel, Lacaste must have climbed on to the bulwark of the vessel from where he lost his footing and fell into the seven degrees cold water, 30 miles southeast of Sumburgh.

It was a “spontaneous reaction by Mr Lacaste to rectify the situation, done so on his own initiative”, the maritime inspector told the hearing.

There is no criticism of the vessel owners by the MCA as to why Lacaste may have done that.

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The focus of the inquiry on Tuesday was mainly on the correct wearing of PFDs and the evolution of the floating device since it had become mandatory for crew to wear them when working on the deck of fishing vessels.

The court was told that the safety culture within the fishing industry had improved significantly over recent years with PFDs were being worn “more often (…) than not”.

The FAI had heard the previous day that Lacaste had worn his PFD but, as was common practice within the industry, without fastening the crutch strap of the device.

These straps, which help holding the PFD in place should its wearer enter the water, were seen as an additional safety hazard by many fishermen and were usually taped up, as was the case with all PFDs on board the Copious.

Since Lacaste’s death, safety advice from the MCA has been amended and requiring fishermen not only to wear PFDs but to wear them correctly in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

However, when asked by fiscal David Glancy to name the principal cause of death in this case, Flavell said that it was his view that Lacaste had died because of the effect of the cold water.

“The crutch strap does not prevent somebody from not succumbing to the cold water,” he said, adding that the crew only had a window of a few minutes to successfully respond to the emergency as Lacaste would have become unconscious within a very short time.

The inquiry before Sheriff Ian Cruickshank continues on Wednesday.

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