MARINE accident experts have slammed the “sustained and consistent disregard” for safety displayed by the operators of a Scottish scallop dredger, following their investigation into the death of a crewman a year ago off the Welsh coast.
Steven Robertson, 25, from Dalbeattie, was lost overboard from the Kirkcudbright-based scallop boat, St Amant, on 13 January last year.
The search for Mr Robertson, who had not been wearing a lifejacket, was called off without any trace being found of him in Caernarfon Bay.
A report issued by the government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has revealed that Mr Robertson probably fell overboard and drowned when he went on to the vessel’s deck to relieve himself in the middle of the night because there was no toilet on board the 59ft dredger for the four-man crew.
The report states: “In the absence of any other evidence, the most probable cause of Steven’s loss is considered to be him slipping or tripping while in the vicinity of the low bulwarks aft of the outriggers, probably while in the process of relieving himself over the side.”
The inspectors said: “The domestic facilities on St Amant at the time of the accident were worse than when the vessel was built, over 36 years previously. The original toilet had been removed at some point and was never replaced. The crew’s only washing facility was the galley sink, and there was no equipment on board to store refrigerated food hygienically.
“This was despite St Amant going to sea for up to four days between harbour visits to land catch and the crew living on board for about ten days at a time.
“It is considered unacceptable for commercial fishermen in the 21st century to have to live and work in the conditions found on board St Amant.”
The damning report continued: “There were obvious health implications from the crew members having to use a bucket for a toilet, especially in poor weather, when they were obliged to sit next to their own fresh food provisions and the catch of scallops in the hold.
“More significantly, the alternative practice of crew members relieving themselves, sitting or leaning, over the vessel’s side in way of low bulwarks, exposed them to an unnecessarily high risk of falling overboard.”
The report stated the owners of the vessel, Nightvalley Ltd, had formally delegated responsibility for the operation of the St Amant, including the health and safety of the crew, to the unnamed skipper in accordance with a partnership agreement.
The investigation revealed that a “large number” of deficiencies, identified during various Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveys and inspections, showed that St Amant’s owner, skipper and crewmen had an “extremely poor” attitude to maintaining a safe working environment on board the vessel.
The MAIB inspectors stated: “A consistently poor standard of housekeeping on deck was found, not only during previous surveys and inspections, but also during this investigation, and even after the accident.
“The unnecessary presence of items of spare gear and equipment on deck further increased the likelihood of a crewman slipping or tripping and falling overboard.”
Nightvalley Ltd could not be contacted for comment.