Skipper sentenced for failings leading to diver death

The skipper of a shellfish fishing boat has been sentenced for serious safety failings after the death of a diver in the River Forth Estuary. 

Graeme Mackie, 31, of Tranent, West Lothian, was working as a scuba diver to collect shellfish from Ronald John MacNeil’s boat the “Rob Roy” when the incident happed on 11 June 2011. 

Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard today (29 July) that Mr Mackie had entered the water for his first dive, around 600 metres south of Methil Harbour, but re-surfaced a minute later waving in obvious distress before disappearing again under the water. 

Ronald MacNeil jumped into the water and made several unsuccessful attempts to locate Mr Mackie just below the surface in the area where he had last been seen. 

Ronald MacNeil sent out a Mayday message and a nearby vessel, the Next Week, responded to the call. A short time later a diver from the other boat located Mr Mackie lying on the river bed. He was recovered to the Next Week but attempts to resuscitate him proved unsuccessful. A post mortem later confirmed he had drowned. 

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Police Scotland, which found serious safety failings in the way the diving project was planned, managed and conducted. 

Mr Mackie, a former welder, had retrained as a commercial diver in 2009 but had not gained any commercial diver experience since that time. 

Mr Mackie had placed an advert online offering his services as a ‘trainee shellfish diver” which prompted Mr MacNeil to contact him and arrangements were made for the fishing trip, in advance of which Mr Mackie had seen his GP and was given the all clear to dive. 

Mr Mackie used his own drysuit for the dive, but Mr MacNeil had supplied all the other equipment used. However, the court was told, that although Mr Mackie was not practiced with the techniques of adjusting buoyancy in water using only his dry suit, he was not wearing any Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) on the day of the dive. 

Mr MacNeil failed to have any standby diver on hand in case of emergencies and when the diver experienced difficulties he was unable to provide immediate assistance.

Ronald John MacNeil, 55, of Somerville Road, Leven, Fife, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6 of The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 and Section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work and a restriction of liberty order will place him on a home curfew between the hours of 19:00 and 07:00 for six months.

Following the case, HSE Principal Inspector (Diving) Mike Leaney, said: “This dive resulted in tragic consequences which could have been avoided had Ronald MacNeil planned the activity properly and employed the correct size dive team made up of competent divers. 

“Diving is a high hazard activity, but if it is conducted properly, in accordance with the regulations and guidance, the risks can be managed. The minimum team size normally required when diving for shellfish is three qualified divers – a supervisor, a working diver and a standby diver. Additional people may be required to operate the boat and to assist in an emergency. 

“As a result of Mr MacNeil’s failings a young man has died, leaving his partner and family to bring up his baby son without him. 

“We hope this sentence will send a message to the shellfish diving industry that employers have a duty to plan and carry out work properly in order to protect workers.” 

Information about health and safety in the diving industry can be found on the HSE website at: 

Notes to Editors: 

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation. 
  3. Regulation 6 of The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 states: “The diving contractor shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the diving project is planned, managed and conducted in a manner which protects the health and safety of all persons taking part in that project.
  4. Section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It is an offence for a person to contravene any health and safety regulations, or any requirement or prohibition imposed under any such regulations (including any requirement or prohibition to which he is subject by virtue of the terms of or any condition or restriction attached to any licence, approval, exemption or other authority issued, given or granted under the regulations).” 
  5. HSE news releases are available at

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