The skipper of a Scottish fishing boat was more than four times the legal alcohol limit for professional seafarers when he fell through a hatch and died.
Andrew Hay, 56, suffered fatal head injuries after falling through the wheelhouse hatch on board the Fraserburgh-registered Artemis while it was docked in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) stated the boat was travelling from Fraserburgh to Cornwall when it stopped in County Down for repairs.
Mr Hay and a fellow crew member went to the pub for three hours where they drank whiskey and beer. Investigators said Mr Hay may not have known how drunk he was because measures of alcholic spirits in Northern Ireland are 1.4 times those in Scotland.
CCTV at the harbour showed Mr Hay being unsteady on his feet when he got back on board, but it is unknown whether he slipped, tripped or stumbled head-first through the hatch and hit the deck below.
The alarm was raised and emergency services attended, but Mr Hay was declared dead at the scene.
Although not on duty when he fell, the MAIB stated that Mr Hay would not have been sober enough to skipper the vessel by its planned 7pm departure time and would have to have waited until 3.30am.
Alcohol is a contributory factor in nearly two thirds of in-port fatalities aboard fishing vessels.
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The Artemis had been modified many times since it was built in Aberdeenshire in 1978 and the MAIB believed the latest modifications contributed to the accident in conjunction with the consumption of alcohol.
The modifications in question were: removal of the wheelhouse door creating an unguarded edge whenever the hatch cover was open; the reorientation of the access ladder/steps which meant crew had to step across the open hatch to get onto the vertical ladder; the ladder was not fitted with handrails; and the installation of a bench seat introduced a trip hazard.The autopsy report gave the cause of death as head injury due to fall.
A pathologist’s examination revealed no underlying medical condition that might have caused Mr Hay to lose consciousness or collapse, and his shoes were found to be in good condition.
The toxicology examination showed no evidence to suggest Mr Hay was under the influence of prescription or illicit drugs, but his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 215 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
The autopsy report stated that such a BAC would be expected to lead to considerable intoxication.
In its conclusions the MAIB report said: “It is unknown how Artemis’s skipper came to fall head-first from the wheelhouse through the mess deck hatch. It is likely that he tripped, stumbled or lost his balance as he approached the unguarded open hatch.
“Post-build modifications to the access route between the wheelhouse and the mess deck increased the likelihood and consequences of someone falling through the mess deck hatch.
“The skipper was under the influence of alcohol and this was almost certainly the most significant factor in this accident.
“The skipper was off duty at the time of the accident but would have been over the mandated alcohol limit at the vessel’s planned time of departure.
“It is possible that the skipper did not fully appreciate the amount of alcohol he was consuming or the effect it would have had as the standard measures for spirits in Northern Ireland were 1.4 times those in Scotland.
“The risks of consuming alcohol and then returning to a fishing vessel when moored in harbour appear to be overlooked by many in the industry given that alcohol is a contributory factor in 62 per cent of fatal fishing vessel accidents in port.”
The vessel’s owners have been recommended to review the design of the means of access between the wheelhouse and the mess deck; update their drug and alcohol policy; and, ensure that all crew are issued with fishermen’s work agreements.
A further recommendation has been made to the Sea Fish Industry Authority (Seafish) and Rockall Ltd to amend the generic drug and alcohol policies contained in their online safety management folders.
A safety flyer called ‘Safety lessons: minimising the risk posed by internal hatches and ladders’ was produced for the fishing industry in light of this incident on the dangers of alcohol consumption and to stress the importance of risk assessing internal hatches, ladders and stairways.