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News

HSE warns divers against dangerous and illegal fishing methods

HSE InfoLine : 14 July, 2005  (Company News)
The warning comes after a multi-agency investigation into illegal diving for razor fish (spoots) off Argyll and Bute on the west coast of Scotland. The investigation revealed that some fishermen operating in the area are dropping electrified cables, which consist of several un-insulated metal electrodes, into the water that are then dragged by the vessel across the seabed stunning razor fish as they go. A diver who follows the path of the cable then collects the fish. However, if the diver comes into contact or even close proximity to the electrodes there is a real risk of electrocution.
The Health and Safety Executive has warned divers of the risks of using unsafe electrical equipment underwater during commercial fishing operations.

The warning comes after a multi-agency investigation into illegal diving for razor fish (spoots) off Argyll and Bute on the west coast of Scotland. The investigation revealed that some fishermen operating in the area are dropping electrified cables, which consist of several un-insulated metal electrodes, into the water that are then dragged by the vessel across the seabed stunning razor fish as they go. A diver who follows the path of the cable then collects the fish. However, if the diver comes into contact or even close proximity to the electrodes there is a real risk of electrocution.

In an effort to curb this unsafe diving practice and illegal fishing method, HSE, the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Police Marine, Air and Underwater Search Units launched Operation Spoots in June 2005.

A police launch and divers departed Greenock, Grand Harbour, while a Police Air Unit helicopter flew over Kilbrannen Sound and reported a suspect vessel with a diver seen in the water. The launch headed to the location but the vessel's crew may have spotted the helicopter and as a result immediately sailed back to Carradale Harbour.

A second suspect vessel, however, was identified and the police launch carrying a diver and two HSE Inspectors was dispatched to make a high-speed approach. As the launch came within sight of the fishing vessel a crewmember was seen to move to the stern and throw something overboard. The vessel was approached, hailed and warned that HSE inspectors would be boarding. The location of the diver in the water was identified and the police deployed a heavy shot-line to mark the location of the dropped object as two HSE Inspectors boarded and started their investigation.

The crew was asked if they were using electrical cables for fishing and after being informed that a USU was available and prepared to dive, he admitted to dumping the electrical cables and using them for catching razor fish. After isolating the generator used to charge the cables, a USU diver searched the seabed and found that the shot-line had landed on top of the electric cables, which were then recovered.

Meanwhile, onboard the vessel, HSE discovered the illegal diver was also the skipper which meant that if he had been injured there was no means of rescuing him from the water. Furthermore, this would have prevented the boat from being operated since the sole remaining crewman could not sail it single handed.

As a result of the operation, a Prohibition Notice was served on the vessel operator, which immediately brought to a halt the dangerous diving practices and effectively prevented the boat from being used in a similar manner until the Notice had been satisfactorily complied with. Operators fishing for razor fish using similar methods are reputed to earn 1,500 2,000 per day; thus prohibiting the operation will have considerable financial repercussions for the boat's owners. Breaking the terms of an Enforcement Notice is punishable by fines not exceeding 20,000 on summons or an unlimited fine on indictment.

As a follow-up to Operation Spoots, HSE, together with the MCA and Police held a meeting with boat owners, operators and divers in the Carradale area. The meeting offered an opportunity to listen to their concerns and to devise a way to work in partnership to tackle health and safety risks posed by the use of divers in commercial fishing activities. However, if necessary, HSE will come down hard on all boat operators who persist on putting divers' safety at risk by using such dangerous and illegal fishing methods.

Commenting on the operation, Frank Murray, HSE Principal Inspector of Diving, said: 'The close cooperation for this operation between HSE and the other responsible agencies is seen as a great success and heralds future similar operations. We are determined that dangerous commercial diving operations will be vigorously tracked down and stopped.'
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