Standby skipper fined for safety breach

The skipper of an oil standby ship has been fined £1,800 for breaching a safety manage­ment system which resulted in the death of a crew member in November 2007.

Alexander Phimister, 62, of Findochty, Buckie, admitted allowing crew member Gordon Buchan, 48 at the time, to board the Vos Viper ship at the Greenhead Base on 17th November that year while more than three and a half times over the alcohol limit permitted under the system.

Mr Buchan, who was from Peterhead, fell down a flight of stairs and died on the ship with 294 milligrammes of alcohol per 100ml of blood when the limit set for crew members is 80 milligrammes.

The court heard the vessel had made an unexpected stop in Lerwick so that work on navigation equipment could be carried out and was not expected to set sail again for more than 24 hours when Phimister, Buchan and another crew member had decided to go out for a drink to celebrate Phimister’s birthday.

They returned from the Norscot Angling Club shortly after midnight and Phimister – who himself had only drunk a pint and a half of shandy and a nip of whisky – realised that Buchan had been drinking heavily, which his defence agent said left him “between a rock and a hard place”.

He was faced with either breaking the safety rules by allowing Buchan to board the ship or leaving him on a cold and wet pier in the middle of winter. With several other crew members on the boat in a complete state of sobriety, he had taken a considered judgement to allow him to board which, with hindsight, had had tragic consequences.

After the three men returned to the Vos Viper, Buchan decided to go and make coffee but tripped and fell down the stairs, sustaining a fatal head injury from which he died immediately. Lerwick Sheriff Court was told that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) had become involved in an inquiry into the death and had been satisfied that there was nothing wrong with the ship’s safety man­agement system or the facilities on board.

Sheriff Graeme Napier said that he had a level of human sympathy for Phimister because of what he had on his conscience and was not sentencing him for the fact that Buchan had died. But he added: “I don’t take lightly the way alcohol and seamen mix.” It was Phimister’s responsibility to ensure the safety system was adhered to.

Because of Phimister’s financial circum­stances – he was forced to stop working shortly after the incident after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, from which he hopes to receive the all clear shortly – Sheriff Napier imposed a fine of £1,800 when the maximum penalty was £10,000.


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