UK fishing industry told to cut down on drinking after majority of port deaths linked to alcohol

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The fishing industry has been told to cut down on boozing after nearly two thirds of port deaths were linked to alcohol.

Commercial fishing has become 'the most dangerous occupation in Britain', with six fishermen dying in just one year - five of which were in Scotland.

Stock image. The maritime alcohol limit is the same as Scotland's drink-driving laws - set at 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood.

Stock image. The maritime alcohol limit is the same as Scotland's drink-driving laws - set at 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood.

But new stats from the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) show that since 1992, booze has contributed to 62 per cent of fatalities on fishing vessels in port.

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The MAIB has made recommendations to the Sea Fish Industry Authority (SFIA), based in Edinburgh, that drug and alcohol policies are further clarified.

The maritime alcohol limit is the same as Scotland's drink-driving laws - set at 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood.

The MAIB said: "There appears to be little awareness of the risk alcohol poses or any guidance on its consumption when crew are of duty and living on board a vessel while in port.

"Boarding a fishing vessel from a quayside while under the influence of alcohol, and then negotiating the ladders and hatches on board, poses considerable risk.

"Regrettably, all too often the dangers of consuming alcohol are overlooked.

"This has led to a significant number of fatal accident investigations by the MAIB involving fishermen who have consumed too much alcohol ashore before returning to their vessels."

Concerns were flagged up after Andrew Hay, 56, from St Fergus, Aberdeenshire, died in April 2019.

He had been onboard the Artemis in Kilkeel, County Down, Northern Ireland, when he fell onto the deck and suffered serious head injuries.

Skipper Mr Hay was more than four times the legal limit for professional seafarers while on duty and that alcohol "was almost certainly the most significant factor" in the accident, the MAIB said.

The tragic fisherman and another crew member had been to a local pub for three hours and drunk whisky and beer as the trawler was moored for repairs, on a trip between Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, to Cornwall.

The MAIB also said wheelhouse hatch design modifications had increased the likelihood of someone falling through the opening.

In August 2018 Duncan Matheson, 63, was working as a deckhand on the Fram of Shieldaig in Loch Torridon, in the Highlands, when he died after he slipped or stumbled while manoeuvring the small tender alongside a moored fishing boat.

An investigation by the MAIB found he was not wearing a life-jacket and was under the influence of alcohol at the time, which was found to be a contributory factor.

The MAIB has recommended that the SFIA amends "generic" drug and alcohol policies contained in safety management folders, saying they do not make clear what the maritime alcohol limit is.

Now the SFIA, the Edinburgh-based, government-funded body, has said it is reviewing and updating its Alcohol and Drugs Policy and Procedures which provide guidance for fishermen on vessel safety.

The SFIA said: "We will use the publication of the revised policy to promote industry awareness of the legal alcohol limits for seafarers and the dangers of alcohol consumption in and around ports and harbours."