Two fisherman who drowned at work may have survived had they been wearing life jackets, a sheriff has ruled.
William Sutherland, 51, and Michael Monk, 57, both perished as they carried out their duties in separate tragedies.
Mr Sutherland, known as Willie, died after his boat Anna-Marie II capsized during unusually high 11ft waves as he was returning home to Brora, Highlands.
His son Liam, who was working alongside his father when they were both swept into the sea, managed to make the shore after the boat overturned unaware his dad was still in danger.
Mr Monk, from Benbecula, was working alone on Loch Carnan, South Uist, when he fell overboard after trying to clear seaweed from his creel boat May C’s propeller.
Sheriff Gary Aitken has now ruled that both men may have lived had they been wearing personal floatation devices (PFDs) following two separate fatal accident inquiries.
He also referenced previous rulings which have repeatedly called for life jackets to be worn by fishermen to prevent fatalities at sea.
In his ruling on Mr Sutherland’s death in September 2019 after a hearing at Tain Sheriff Court, Sheriff Aitken said: “There is clearly no dispute that he sadly drowned after being thrown into the water from the Anna-Marie II, after the vessel was hit by an unusually high wave and capsized.
“I am satisfied that Mr Sutherland’s failure to wear a PFD while engaged in returning to harbour was part of his system of work for fishing and that accordingly there was a defect in that system of work.
“I do not consider it necessary to make any further recommendations in this inquiry.
“The main point to be made, as has been made in several determinations in the past, is the importance of wearing PFDs.”
He added: “I have no doubt that his loss is still keenly felt. This tragic incident must have been especially traumatic for his son, Liam, who was working with his father at the time of the capsize.”
Referring to Mr Monk’s death in July 2019 after an inquiry at Lochmaddy Sheriff Court, he said: “Given that the cause of Mr Monk falling overboard cannot be determined with certainty, I cannot make any findings as to reasonable precautions which may have prevented that accident from occurring.
“I am satisfied that Mr Monk’s failure to wear a PFD while engaged in fishing was part of his system of work for fishing and that accordingly there was a defect in that system of work.”
Sheriff Aitken made no formal recommendations in either case and expressed his best wishes to both families for their loss.
Earlier investigations into the tragedies by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) also concluded that life jackets could have saved their lives.
They said that because he did not have the proper safety equipment then Mr Monk’s chances of survival were very low.
The MAIB investigation found Mr Sutherland had worn an inflatable life jacket in the past when fishing alone but had stopped over concerns it would hamper his ability to cut himself free if he fell overboard and became trapped in fishing gear, or would lead to him becoming trapped if his vessel capsized.