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July 30, 2015

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Skipper sentenced to unpaid work and curfew following death of diver

The skipper of a shellfish fishing boat has been ordered to carry out unpaid work and has been given a six-month curfew after the death of a diver in the River Forth Estuary.

Graeme Mackie, 31, of Tranent, West Lothian, was working as a scuba diver to collect shellfish from Ronald John MacNeil’s boat the “Rob Roy” when the incident happenedd on 11 June 2011.

Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard yesterday (29 July) that Mr Mackie had entered the water for his first dive, around 600 metres south of Methil Harbour, but re-surfaced a minute later waving in obvious distress before disappearing again under the water.

Ronald MacNeil jumped into the water and made several unsuccessful attempts to locate Mr Mackie just below the surface in the area where he had last been seen.

Ronald MacNeil sent out a Mayday message and a nearby vessel, the Next Week, responded to the call. A short time later a diver from the other boat located Mr Mackie lying on the river bed. He was recovered to the Next Week but attempts to resuscitate him proved unsuccessful. A post mortem later confirmed he had drowned.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Police Scotland, which found serious safety failings in the way the diving project was planned, managed and conducted.

Mr Mackie, a former welder, had retrained as a commercial diver in 2009 but had not gained any commercial diver experience since that time.

Mr Mackie had placed an advert online offering his services as a ‘trainee shellfish diver” which prompted Mr MacNeil to contact him and arrangements were made for the fishing trip, in advance of which Mr Mackie had seen his GP and was given the all clear to dive.

Mr Mackie used his own drysuit for the dive, but Mr MacNeil had supplied all the other equipment used. However, the court was told, that although Mr Mackie was not practiced with the techniques of adjusting buoyancy in water using only his dry suit, he was not wearing any Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) on the day of the dive.

Mr MacNeil failed to have any standby diver on hand in case of emergencies and when the diver experienced difficulties he was unable to provide immediate assistance.

Ronald John MacNeil, 55, of Somerville Road, Leven, Fife, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6 of The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 and Section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work and a restriction of liberty order will place him on a home curfew between the hours of 19:00 and 07:00 for six months.

Following the case, HSE Principal Inspector (Diving) Mike Leaney, said: “This dive resulted in tragic consequences which could have been avoided had Ronald MacNeil planned the activity properly and employed the correct size dive team made up of competent divers.

“Diving is a high hazard activity, but if it is conducted properly, in accordance with the regulations and guidance, the risks can be managed. The minimum team size normally required when diving for shellfish is three qualified divers – a supervisor, a working diver and a standby diver. Additional people may be required to operate the boat and to assist in an emergency.

“As a result of Mr MacNeil’s failings a young man has died, leaving his partner and family to bring up his baby son without him.

“We hope this sentence will send a message to the shellfish diving industry that employers have a duty to plan and carry out work properly in order to protect workers.”

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Morag O'Halloran
Morag O'Halloran
8 years ago

I had a look at HSE scuba part 4 course at Fortwilliam Underwater Centre and found that 4 short dives half mask, dry suit + BCD were done along with 14 dives were done with scuba full-faced mask with dry suit only, blue backpack only NO BCD. Maximum depth on half mask was 15 metres yet qualified to 50 metres on all scuba diving (re paragraph 9 of above report) … Could you please explain this statement ? Kind Regards.

Morag O'Halloran
Morag O'Halloran
8 years ago

If the above diver had done part 4 HSC scuba as a separate course, there is pre- requisite of PADI open water or equivalent where he would have got more BCD experience. However, by doing the part 4 HSC SCUBA as part of the standard career package, the pre-requisute for this combined course is 100 metre surface swim. This means diver could have reached the SCUBA course with no previous BCD experience. Could you please give me an opinion on this, I am rather puzzled. Kind Regards.