The master of a Shetland shellfish boat has admitted failing to preserve his only crewman’s life by not keeping a proper lookout before the vessel hit rocks and sank.
Christopher Smith, 39, was in charge of the Diamond in the early hours of the morning when the accident happened, resulting in the death of 40-year-old Leonard Scollay.
A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) probe into the sinking revealed that both men had heroin in their system. The inquiry found their reactions would have been impaired by the drugs they had taken.
Yesterday, Smith, of Glenburn Road, Hamnavoe, Burra, appeared at the town’s Sheriff Court and pleaded guilty to the charge in relation to the March 2014 tragedy off the west coast of the Shetland mainland.
Smith pleaded guilty to an amended charge of failing to preserve Scollay from death or serious injury by “neglecting your duty to keep a proper lookout by sight and hearing and by all available means” – resulting in the ship running aground on the entrance to West Burrafirth harbour.
Procurator fiscal Gary Aitken said Smith took the vessel out from Scalloway Harbour on the evening of March 24. Scollay was the only other person on board.
Weather conditions deteriorated, with strong winds and heavy seas, and the 39ft vessel hit a rock shortly before 3am. Scollay then made a Mayday call to the coastguard, adding “I don’t think we are going to make it to the pier.”
That was the last communication before the vessel sank. The coastguard, lifeboat and nearby fishing vessel Diane Maxwell responded, and crew from the latter boat found Scollay lying face down in the water. He was found to be unresponsive and wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.
Just before 4am the lifeboat recovered Smith from the water and both were taken to the Gilbert Bain Hospital. Attempts to resuscitate Scollay were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 7.10am as a result of being immersed in the water. Mr Aitken said drowning was the most likely cause.
The fiscal said Smith had a lengthy background in the fishing industry. He had purchased the wooden Diamond from South Shields around 18 months earlier, but subsequently cancelled its insurance policy and had not reinstated it.
After the pair ended up in the water on March 25, Smith had attempted to reach Scollay but wasn’t able to due to the sea swell.
But, the fiscal said, had he followed the navigation lights leading into the harbour the boat would have found a safe passage back to shore.
The three-light system at the harbour entrance was a “fairly straightforward and easily-used one that masters should be readily able to comply with”.
Defence agent Martin Morrow said his client considered Scollay a good friend and he had found the tragedy very upsetting.
Sheriff Philip Mann bailed Smith until October 12, deferring sentence so that a criminal justice social inquiry report can be prepared. “All sentencing options are open to me,” he added.
Mr Scollay was a renowned Shetland musician. He was on his first fishing trip and had not been given basic sea survival training.