‘Disappointment’ over fish farm death inquiry

Mowi vessel Beinn na Caillach

The long-time partner of Clive Hendry has expressed “disappointment” over the findings of a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into his death at a Mowi fish farm.

Clive Hendry was an Assistant Farm Manager with Mowi, at the Ardintoul farm on the south side of Loch Alsh, near Kyle of Lochalsh. He had worked for Mowi for 12 years and in aquaculture for more than 20 years.

On 18 February 2020, he was disembarking from a workboat, the Beinn na Caillach, onto the farm’s Sea Cap feed barge, and became trapped between the barge and the workboat. Although a colleague attempted to rescue him, he slipped out of his life jacket and into the sea. He was recovered, lifeless a few minutes later.

In May last year Mowi, which pled guilty at Inverness Sheriff Court to a number of health and safety breaches over the accident, was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £60,000.

Catriona Lockhart, Hendry’s partner for 28 years, felt the court case had not addressed the underlying causes of the accident and campaigned for an FAI to be opened – but she now feels let down by the process and its outcome.

Catriona Lockhart said of the inquiry, which was conducted online: “It was just a farce”.

Key marine safety bodies were not represented, she said, the court’s online video application was unreliable at times and not all the evidence was presented. For example, previous accidents, including eight involving crushing injuries, had not been taken into consideration.

Above all, Lockhart said the FAI’s failure to make recommendations – the published determination only provides “opinions” – undermined its effectiveness and meant that lessons from the tragic accident had not been learned.

She said: “I feel this will happen again… nothing has changed.”

Clive Hendry

In his determination of the inquiry, Sheriff Gary Aitken of Inverness Sheriff Court, said: “There are precautions which could reasonably have been taken that might realistically have resulted in the death, or accident resulting in the death, being avoided.

These are firstly that there should have been a specific risk assessment for the transfer of personnel from large workboats such as the Beinn na Caillich to floating structures such as the Sea Cap. Secondly, and following on from such a risk assessment, there should have been a safe system of work for such transfers. As a minimum, such a system of work should have required that the vessel be stationary during transfer and mandate that personnel should only embark or disembark from the vessel when signalled by the master of the vessel that they are satisfied that it is safe to do so.”

In fact, the determination finds, “…employees did not properly understand their respective expectations in relation to such transfers, resulting in a confused and dangerous transfer attempt by Mr Hendry, resulting in a fatal accident.”

The Sheriff’s remarks come, however, in the form of  “discussion and conclusions” rather than as formal recommendations.

The determination also calls attention to the fact that Clive Hendry’s lifejacket was not properly fastened – the crotch straps, which are important to ensure the jacket remains in the correct position when in the water, were not properly fastened.

The Sheriff also found that the other crew members demonstrated “a lack of familiarity” with man overboard training which hampered their attempts to rescue Hendry.

The risk assessment documents regarding transfers used by Mowi at the time related mainly to the much smaller Polarcirkel workboats used by Mowi, not larger vessels like the Beinn na Caillach.

In contrast, the Workboat Association’s guidance on crew transfer makes it clear that the vessel’s master needs to assess the risk and give the all-clear before any transfer takes place.

The determination acknowledges Mowi’s statement that it has made changes to its safety protocols since the accident. “Touch and go” transfers, where the docking vessel is not tied up, have been stopped and it has been stressed that the vessel’s master must give the go ahead before any transfer takes place.

The Sheriff concluded that the fact that the vessel’s bulwark gates were routinely left open on short journeys around the farm site was not a key contributing factor, although he said it was “best practice” to keep the gates closed even on short journeys.

Online safety training has been rolled out and there are rescue poles on all the vessels, Mowi said, and a new guide on the use of lifejackets has been drawn up.

Mowi’s Head of Health and Safety, David Filshie, told the Oban Times: “Mowi extends its deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and colleagues of Clive Hendry, who tragically lost his life on February 18, 2020. The findings of the Fatal Accident Inquiry highlight shortcomings in our safety management system which were immediately rectified after the accident. Since the accident, we chose to recognise guilt and focus on improvements and maintaining the highest possible standards for our safety management systems.”

Sea Cap feed barge, Ardintoul

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