The clam dredger, Diamond, sank after hitting a rock in West Burra Firth in the Shetland Islands in March 2014. Crewman, John Leonard Scollay died.

The owner and skipper of the fishing boat, Diamond LK6, has been sentenced to six months in prison after the vessel sank, causing the death of a crew member.

The clam dredger ran aground on 25 March 2014 in West Burra Firth, the Shetland Islands, sinking rapidly.

Neither skipper Christopher Smith or crew member John Leonard Scollay had enough time to collect their lifejackets from below decks prior to jumping overboard.

It was Scollay’s first voyage to sea and he had not had any sea survival training.

At an earlier hearing at Lerwick Sheriff Court, Christopher Smith pleaded guilty to a contravention of Section 58(2)(b) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

He returned to court on 12 October to receive his sentence.

The court had heard how in the early hours of 25 March 2014, the fishing vessel Diamond sank after striking a rock in West Burra Firth.

The Diamond before it sank in West Burra Firth in the Shetland Islands

The Diamond. Credit: MAIB

It had set off from Scalloway at around 5.30pm the previous afternoon, bound for fishing grounds 20 miles to the west.

At first, the vessel was sheltered from the full force of the weather, but as it moved north, the Diamond became exposed to south-south-easterly winds Beaufort force 6, gusting to force 8, with choppy sea conditions.

The decision was made to shelter in West Burra and as the vessel approached the outer channel leading to the Firth, Smith handed over the navigation to Scollay.

He went to check the engine room where he encountered and dealt with a minor leak of diesel fuel.

Both the inner and outer channel are marked with leading lights and the vessel was fitted with operational radar and electronic plotters.

Smith returned to the wheelhouse and altered course to port to follow the inner channel to West Burra.

Shortly after altering course, the vessel struck the rocks and Smith issued a Mayday.

A nearby fishing vessel responded and Scollay was found and recovered, before being transferred to the HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter. Smith was recovered by a lifeboat.

An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published in February 2015 found that both Smith and Scollay were intoxicated by illegal and controlled drugs at the time of the accident and, as such, “their ability to function was significantly impaired.”

“It is likely that Leonard Scollay would have survived had he been wearing a lifejacket. However, he had taken heroin before the accident and this would have impaired his ability to survive or to appreciate his predicament,” said the report.

Investigators concluded that Smith has “no formal navigation qualifications” although he had previously shown “some navigational competence” when he steamed Diamond from North Shields to Lerwick.

On the night of the accident, Smith was not making use of the sectored lights to navigate safely into West Burra Firth.

The MAIB found that Smith was wearing a flotation suit and that this “almost certainly” saved his life.

He has also employed Scollay “without ensuring that he was appropriately trained.”

Speaking following Smith’s sentence to six months in prison, the consultant fishing vessel surveyor with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Keith Patterson, said: “This was a very tragic and entirely avoidable incident.”

“Christopher Smith’s failure to navigate his vessel properly lead to the death of John Scollay,” he stated.