A fishing firm has been fined after one of its divers went missing for more than 11 hours and had to be rescued by a passing Russian ship as he drifted towards the Baltic.
Orkney Dived Scallops Ltd, admitted health and safety breaches over the terrifying incident at The Kist, South Ronaldsay.
The firm had been carrying out a scallop diving operation in the area when the incident happened.
A rope had become tangled in the vessel’s propeller, causing it to drift off while a diver remained in the water.
When the issue was fixed and the boat returned the diver, Ivan Doychev, was nowhere to be seen and a desperate search began.
Fiscal depute Roderick Urquhart told Kirkwall Sheriff Court during efforts to grapple a scallop bag, which had become attached to a buoy, the rope to the bag became fouled in the boat’s propeller.
Choppers joined fleet of boats in frantic search
The vessel, the Fair Morn, began drifting without power at around 7mph.
The propeller was eventually freed and the boat steamed back to recover a diver, Ivan Doychev, who had still been in the water.
Mr Urquhart said: “Returning to Ivan Doychev’s last known position, the crew of the Fair Morn was unable to see either marker buoy. After searching for about 10 minutes, they called the coastguard.”
A frantic search ensued involving the firm’s other vessel, the Patsy B, along with four commercial vessels in the area, three lifeboats, Coastguard search teams and two helicopters.
The fiscal said: “Eventually at about 3am on Thursday May 4 Ivan Doychev was picked up in the Pentland Firth by the Yuni Baltiets, a Russian sail training ship crewed by 40 naval cadets on its way from St Petersburg to Loch Ewe for a commemoration of the wartime Arctic convoys.
“At that time he was about two miles north of John O’Groats, some 14 miles from where he had started his dive and outside the search zone.”
Diver ‘did not have a personal locator beacon’
The court heard Mr Doychev was “remarkably phlegmatic about his experience”.
“He could see the boats and helicopters searching for him in the distance and that and staying calm had kept him going.
“He was appreciative of everyone’s efforts and hoped to go diving again that weekend.”
Mr Doychev had been in the water for 11 hours and 33 minutes, although some of that included the initial planned dive, which normally lasts around 40 minutes.
He did not have a personal locator beacon and none were carried on the vessel.
Mr Urquhart said: “Supplying such a device would have been reasonably practicable and it is difficult to imagine that he would have been missing for nearly as long as he was had he had access to one.
“Having a suitable tended lifeline connecting him with the surface vessel was another safeguard that would have been reasonably practicable and which probably would have made a difference when Ivan Doychev became separated from the vessel but there was none.
“Checks of the paperwork seized revealed other breaches.”
In court, Orkney Dived Scallops pled guilty to three charges under The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 and Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
The firm, which three directors, Frederick Brown and his daughters Georgina and Shona, admitted to, on March 7 2017, failing to ensure that there were sufficient people with suitable competence to carry out safely and without risk to health, both the diving project and any action (including the giving of first aid) which may have been necessary in the event of a reasonably foreseeable emergency.
While four dives were being carried out there was only one person left on board whilst two divers were in the water, two members of the dive team did not have necessary qualifications or valid certificates of medical fitness to dive, no standby diver was available, nobody acting as a diving supervisor had been appointed in writing, and one person was not qualified to supervise the diving.
The company also admitted to, on the same day, failing to ensure that young people employed were protected from risks to their health and safety.
It allowed a 17-year-old to take part in a dive while he was not qualified to undertake the role of a diver and did not have a valid certificate of medical fitness to take part, and no risk assessment was carried out.
Finally, in relation to the incident with Mr Doychev, the firm admitted failing to ensure that the dive was planned, managed and conducted in a manner that protected the health and safety of all persons taking part in said project.
Claire Mitchell QC, who represented Orkney Dived Scallops, said the company took the incident very seriously and that May 3 2017 “was the worst day in Mr Brown’s life.”
Health and safety breaches ‘potentially fatal’
After the incident the company brought in a health and safety consultant to carry out a health and safety audit and to provide training.
She said: “The company accepts what has gone wrong and has worked to put it right.“
She described it as “a well respected local company”.
She further explained that now the company was feeling the effects of Covid and Brexit with the loss of the European market and the fall in the price of scallops due to the UK market now being flooded.
Sheriff Robert McDonald described the case as “a serious matter” and said “the consequences of a failure to comply with health and safety requirements in diving cases is potentially fatal”.
He fined the company a total of £15,000.