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Skipper Sentenced Following Diver Death in the Forth

The skipper of a shellfish fishing boat has been sentenced for serious safety failings after the death of a diver in the River Forth Estuary.

Graeme Mackie was working as a scuba diver to collect shellfish from Ronald John MacNeil’s boat the “Rob Roy” when the incident occurred in June 2011.

Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard 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 MacNeil 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.

“Diving is a high hazard activity, but if it is conducted properly, in accordance with the regulations and guidance, the risks can be managed,” commented HSE Principal Inspector (Diving) Mike Leaney. “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.”

“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,” he added.

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