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Marine / Language issues resulted in injured fisherman transfering to pilot boat

Scalloway Harbour from above. Photo: SIC/John Coutts

THE LANGUAGE barrier is thought to be the reason why an injured crew member of a French fishing boat unexpectedly climbed down a ladder onto a pilot boat instead of waiting for a coastguard airlift in the Scalloway harbour area in March.

It was reported as an “unauthorised casualty transfer at sea”, and it prompted positive post-incident discussions with the coastguard about how to overcome similar language issues in the future.

The casualty was transferred by the pilot boat to the harbour before he was taken to hospital by car.

Speaking at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board on Wednesday, harbourmaster Greg Maitland said the casualty should not have boarded the pilot boat.

He explained that the airlift to hospital was not able to take place further out at sea due to the conditions, so a pilot boat had been send out to help the fishing vessel into calmer waters.

He said there was a mix-up where the casualty must have thought he was to board the pilot boat and was not aware of the impending airlift, with this probably down to his poor English.

Councillor Stephen Leask asked if there was any insurance or legal risk with people boarding pilot vessels.

Maitland said the SIC have in the past used pilot boats for crew changes at sea but have stopped doing so on advice of the government.

He said an issue can be people without adequate training using pilot ladders.

Councillor Robbie McGregor said he was “horrified” to hear of the incident, as he was someone who had boarded boats by ladder for a number of years through his work in the past.

He said he was never comfortable with boarding vessels despite having been trained.

Board chairman Robert Thomson said the use of interpreters may help the situation in the future.

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