A CREWMAN told a court on Wednesday how there was “panic” on board a boat after a diver failed to surface from the waters of the Firth of Forth.
Carl Smart, 71, said he sometimes gave a hand when Guthrie Melville, 60, had divers aboard his vessel, the 26ft Solstice, based at Methil docks in Fife.
Mr Smart, from Methil, said the night before the incident, which ended in the death of father-of-two James Irvine, he had been telephoned by Melville who said there was a diver “wanting to go out pleasure diving”.
Melville is on trial at Stirling Sheriff Court accused of safety failings which led to the fatality.
Mr Smart, a retired builder, said that on the day of the incident, 24 March 2011, he met Melville and Mr Irvine and they sailed to Largo Bay on the Forth, where the water was 10ft-15ft deep.
He said he gave Mr Irvine a hand to zip up his diving suit before he went into the water.
“I went into the wheelhouse to have a cup of tea,” he said. “After ten or 20 minutes we didn’t see any traces or bubbles at the stern of the boat. The bubbles come up from the tank – you’re always looking out at the stern of the boat for bubbles to make sure everything’s all right.”
Depute fiscal Louise Beattie, prosecuting, asked: “Did you have any other way of knowing how the diver was getting on under water?” Mr Smart replied: “Not really, no.”
Ms Beattie then asked: “Did you have any way of locating where the diver was underwater?” Mr Smart replied: “No.”
He added: “We waited for quite a wee while, five or ten minutes, I can’t remember. We didn’t see any [bubbles] and we started to panic then.”
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He said Melville, whom he knew as “Gus”, got in touch with the coastguard. “We took a reading of the last position we were in. We got the anchor up and did a varying circle, going wider and wider to see if we could see anything. We couldn’t, so we went back to our original position.”
He said the coastguard and the RNLI then arrived.
In answer to questioning, he told Ms Beattie that his position was that Mr Irvine was on a pleasure dive. He said: “I was told he was going for a pleasure dive. I assumed he was wanting to go razor-fishing at some point and wanted to learn a bit.”
Jurors were played a recording of a call that Melville made to Fife Police after the incident.
He said he could not get hold of the coastguard because of a radio problem, and asked them to relay his message.
He told the police operator: “A diver’s in the water and hasn’t come up. He’s been there for about 20 minutes. He has not surfaced at all, no sign of bubbles, nothing.”
Melville, from Cardenden, Fife, faces a six-page indictment.
It is alleged he had responsibility for the fatal diving project, arranged and directed the dive, and failed to take measures to comply with diving regulations.
He is also alleged to have failed to provide any equipment to help get Mr Irvine from the water in the event of an emergency, or to monitor him while he was underwater.
It is also claimed Melville failed to ensure a standby diver or suitably-qualified people were present to manage the dive and deal with an emergency. And it is alleged that between April 2005 and March 2011, he failed to protect the health and safety of six other men he employed to dive for shellfish, and tried to defeat the ends of justice.
He pleads not guilty to all the charges.
Earlier Mr Irvine’s widow, Hazel, 42, told the court her laid-off kitchen fitter husband had only done a two-week diving course in Turkey on holiday and had never dived for shellfish.
She said a man called Guthrie had offered him between £100-£150 a day to dive for razor clams using electrical rods but he had been “apprehensive” about going on the dive.
The jury trial, before Sheriff William Gilchrist, continues.
Hazel Irvine, widow of James Irvine, left, leaves court with son Alan, after testifying Pictures: CSNA