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    Owner fined after death of crew member on his boat

    Company News // November 9, 2015

    The owner/skipper of a fishing vessel engaged where a man died after inhaling dangerous fumes, has been fined £20,000 at Elgin Sheriff Court. James Strachan Thores was charged under Regulation 5 of the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 following the death of ship’s engineer Artis Sterkis. He pleaded guilty to the charge.

    On 23 August, 2011, the Starlight Rays PD230, a UK-registered fishing vessel which also occasionally does oil rig support duties, sailed from Peterhead to undertake pipeline stand-by duties. On board was owner and skipper James Strachan Thores, ship’s engineer Artis Sterkis and two others. On 25th August, Artis Sterkis was instructed by the skipper to pump out the bow thrust space – a compartment about three cubic metres, accessed through a small hatch and at the fore end of the fish hold.

    The vessel was fitted with two independent means of pumping out the space as required by regulation however neither system was working.  A petrol-driven fire pump had been used before to pump out the compartment, but only in port with the main deck hatch lid and shelter deck hatch open.

    Mr Sterkis and another crewman rigged the pump and attempted to pump the water out. To begin with the pump did not gain suction and there were problems with the drive engine. The pump operated again but after some time, cut out and would not restart. The crewman assisting Mr Sterkis began to feel unwell so got out of the hold. 

    When he returned, it was to find Mr Sterkis unconscious, so he raised the alarm and then returned to the hold where he himself collapsed. James Thores radioed a nearby rig support vessel who were able to send a medic across with oxygen.

    A rescue helicopter was dispatched and airlifted Mr Sterkis and the crewman to hospital, but Mr Sterkis sadly died.
    James Thores had a duty as the crew’s employer to ensure the health and safety of the workers on the vessel and in addition, as skipper, he has an overriding requirement to supervise work being done on the vessel and ensure it is being done safely.

    He pleaded guilty at a hearing on 12 October to a charge under Regulation 5 of the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health & Safety at Work) Regulations 1997. Sentence was deferred to 5 November.

    The judge Sheriff Olga Pasportnikov said if Mr Thores had followed previous recommendations from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, then this accident would not have occurred and she fined him £20,000.

    Captain Bill Bennett, area manager, survey and inspection said this was an accident which should never have happened. He said: "The dangers of using of a petrol engine in a confined space are well known. The vessel was provided with two primary pumping systems either of which could have and should have been operational. There should have been no reason to use the petrol pump which was onboard as an emergency fire pump, not as a salvage pump."

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