Often a local dealer will take the catch straight off the boat and it will appear next day in city restaurants. SCUBA diving however, can be dangerous: strong currents can carry a diver along the sea bed and away from his boat, sediment and material in the sea can reduce visibility to zero and "junk" on the seabed like creels, transparent mono filament fishing line and rope can tangle up the unwary diver who is rooting around in the sea bed for clams.
A recent prosecution in Stirling Sheriff Court arose from sadly typical circumstances.
On 24 March 2011, James Irvine was scuba diving from a vessel "Solstice" skippered by a local man Guthrie Melville to collect shellfish in the tidal waters of the River Forth Estuary, known as Largo Bay, at a location south of the village of Lower Largo, Fife.
During one dive, James Irvine descended as normal, but after some time, the people in the boat were unable to see anyair bubbles on the surface of the water from his breathing apparatus, and after continuing to search the surface eventually contacted the emergency services to report the diver missing. A search was conducted by the Coastguard, and by a Police Scotland dive team. James Irvine's body was subsequently found and recovered from the seabed by police divers on 25 March 2011.
Melville was found guilty after trial on 17 February 2015 at Stirling Sheriff Court on two charges on indictment contrary to The Diving at Work Regulations 1997, Regulation 6 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Section 33(1)(c) and was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
As master of the vessel, Melville had a statutory duty to implement a safe system on board. His failings included:
- No means of communication by even a simple life line from diver to deck;
- No marker buoy from diver to surface showing his position;
- No stand by diver in place to provide assistance if required;
- Inadequate qualifications and training for his divers.
Judith Tetlow, HSE Principal Inspector of Diving, said:
"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 - a supervisor, a working diver, and a standby diver. Additional people may be required to operate the boat and to assist in an emergency."
Prosecution and the risk of imprisonment of negligent skippers is likely to be the only effective deterrent in an ongoing campaign to prevent fatalities in this dangerous activity.