Pressure mounts to change law after FAI

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The Scottish Government is supporting a judge’s recommendation to make lifejackets compulsory for all fishermen working on open decks at sea, after concluding the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the death of Scott MacAlister.

The inquiry into the death of Luing skipper Scott MacAlister, who drowned when the trawler Speedwell sank off Easdale five years ago, which was headed by Sheriff Patrick Hughes at Oban Sheriff Court in June, heard evidence from search and rescue crews, investigators, Mr MacAlister’s father Peter, former crew and the Speedwell’s owner John Connell.

The UK Government, which has responsibility for safety at sea, is now looking into changing the law.

Reacting to Sheriff Patrick Hughes’ ruling, Argyll and Bute’s SNP MSP Michael Russell said: ‘Given the sheriff has concluded that wearing a lifejacket might have been instrumental in securing a different outcome from the tragic result of the sinking of the Speedwell, I hope serious consideration will be given by [the UK] Government to implementing the recommendation.’

Dr Alasdair Allan, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, added: ‘Fishermen in recent years have been choosing to wear lifejackets and flotation devices more and more. The recommendations of the FAI around this tragic case will strengthen this trend further. These findings mean we are now at the point where new rule-changes may well be needed.

‘I hope this would happen but with the involvement of fishermen, who are experienced on the question of what types of lifejackets and flotation devices work most safely in different situations.’

The Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron agreed that ‘there is real merit in the sheriff’s recommendation’. However, he added, ‘it is right that all politicians engage the views of the industry first before coming to a final conclusion on this matter, not least because there are operational implications.’

Argyll and Bute’s SNP MP Brendan O’Hara also agreed: ‘If the law was to change then it absolutely must include consultation with the skippers and crew of our vital fishing vessels. If the safety equipment is fit for purpose and doesn’t obstruct their work, then I can’t see why anyone would object.’

Highlands & Islands MSP Rhoda Grant (Lab) said 67 per cent of commercial fishermen who drowned between 2000 and 2014 were not wearing a lifejacket. ‘Gone are the days when it could be argued that these devices were bulky and got in the way of work,’ Ms Grant said.

‘There are now so many on the market to choose from people can find ones that are fit for purpose and also save lives. Too often we have witnessed families broken hearted and we need a step change in culture to stop this happening.’

The Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it was working to deliver ‘zero preventable deaths’ in the sector: ‘We are in the process of revising the Fishing Vessel Codes of Practice and developing policy to implement the Work in Fishing Convention ILO 188 to improve living and working conditions in the UK fishing industry.

‘The implementation of ILO 188 into UK law will, when laid before Parliament, give the MCA the framework to enforce the wearing of personal flotation devices unless measures are in place which eliminate the risk of fishermen falling overboard.’