A fisherman whose boat ran aground at West Burrafirth, resulting in the death of his only other crewman, is beginning a six-month prison sentence after he admitted failing to keep a proper lookout.
Christopher Smith, 39, of Glenburn Road, Hamnavoe, was told by Sheriff Philip Mann that a custodial sentence was the only suitable disposal when he appeared for sentence.
Smith had previously admitted breaching the Merchant Shipping Act (1995) in March 2014 when he ventured out onboard his boat Diamond to fish for scallops with his friend and talented musician, Leonard Scollay.
Lerwick Sheriff Court heard Smith had been distracted by a fuel spillage in the engine room and was concerned that the problem may lead to a fire taking hold of the vessel.
He subsequently lost control of the vessel in worsening conditions and struck a rock at West Burrafirth.
Both men ended up in the water as a result of the 3am incident. They were taken onboard the lifeboat, which had been despatched, but attempts to resuscitate Mr Scollay failed. He was pronounced dead after being brought to the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.
Smith pleaded guilty to neglecting his duty to keep an adequate lookout on the 12.2 metre vessel. He failed to preserve the ship and any person onboard from death or serious injury.
Defence agent Martin Morrow said something had gone wrong in the engine room which had resulted in fuel spilling from a supply pipe and on to hot engine components. He said Smith was fearful of the possibility of a fire taking hold onboard the vessel.
“He had to take a spanner to disengage the fuel link. This took longer than anticipated,” Mr Morrow told the court.
He added there was a subsequent miscalculation, and Smith was unable to prevent the vessel from colliding with a rock, which pierced the starboard side of the Diamond.
Mr Morrow added a background report prepared by social work staff showed the incident had had a “significant effect” on Smith.
“I have dealt with this case for 18 months. Throughout that time his primary concern was not for himself at all. His primary concern was that he had caused Mr Scollay to lose his life, and it would impact on Mr Scollay’s family far more than it would impact on him,” Mr Morrow said.
He said the report made reference to observations by Smith that Mr Scollay’s family “must find it difficult to see him [Smith] walking about, when Mr Scollay can not walk about”.
Mr Morrow added that Smith had lost a significant amount of weight and had not worked in the last two and a half years.
“He has been in a steep, steep depression,” the solicitor said. Smith felt he was “skulking around” any time he went outside, as if he should not be there. The incident had had a significant impact on his family.
The court heard that Smith had also relapsed into substance misuse but was seeking appropriate help.
Mr Morrow urged Sheriff Mann to impose a community-based sentence. He said Smith had made an “error of judgment” but had been forced to deal with an “unforeseen situation” that had arisen below deck.
After taking a few moments to consider his verdict, sheriff Mann told Smith he had pleaded guilty to a serious charge on indictment.
The sheriff said: “By entering that plea you have accepted you neglected your duty – as a result your vessel struck a rock and both you and Mr Scollay ended up in the sea as the vessel sank. Unfortunately, Mr Scollay lost his life. Fortunately, you survived.”
Sheriff Mann insisted no sentence he could impose would bring Mr Scollay back, or lessen the grief Mr Scollay’s family must feel “even yet”.
But he told Smith: “After very anxious consideration I have come to the view that only a custodial sentence is appropriate in this case.”
He said the maximum sentence he could impose would be one of two years in prison. However, he handed Smith a six month term from today’s date.
The case comes after a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch concluded in February last year that both men were intoxicated by illegal and controlled drugs when the vessel sank.