SCOTTISH sea fish industry managers have pledged to make changes over its safety advice after it emerged alcohol has been a contributory factor in two in three in-port fishing deaths.

Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) concerns surfaced as an investigation found that the skipper of a Fraserburgh-registered boat died when he fell through a wheelhouse hatch after three hours drinking in the pub.

The Herald revealed in July that commercial fishing had become Britain's most dangerous occupation with six fishermen dying in the space of just one year. Five of the six deaths occurred in Scottish waters.

New Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) statistics show that since 1992, alcohol was a contributing factor in 62% of the 42 fishing vessel fatalities that have occurred while in port.

The Marine Accident Investigation Board raised a safety concern in a circular to the fishing industry after Andrew Hay, 56, died following the latest incident on the Artemis in Kilkeel, County Down, Northern Ireland, in April last year.

A report said the skipper from St Fergus, Aberdeenshire had been "significantly under the influence of alcohol" and suffered severe head injuries after falling to the deck below.

The MAIB said Mr Hay was more than four times the legal alcohol limit for professional seafarers while on duty and that alcohol "was almost certainly the most significant factor" in this accident.

READ MORE: Fishing which cost five Scottish lives in a year is 'most dangerous' UK job

The MAIB has recommended that the Sea Fish Industry Authority (SFIA) amend "generic" drug and alcohol policies contained in safety management folders saying they do not make clear what the maritime alcohol limit is. The limit is equal to the Scottish drink driving laws set at 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood.

The MAIB says the limit should be made clear in those policies and indicated that the aim was to ensure it gives a “clear definition over the circumstances under which they may be required to undergo drug and alcohol testing to help prevent future accidents”.

Now the SFIA, the Edinburgh-based part government-funded body, has said it is reviewing and updating its Alcohol and Drugs Policy and Procedures which provide guidance for fishermen on vessel safety. "We will use the publication of the revised policy to promote industry awareness of the legal alcohol limits for seafarers and the dangers of alcohol consumption in and around ports and harbours," it said.

The SFIA's Health & Safety in the Seafood Industry Open Learning Course video of 2013.

The MAIB said: “There appears to be little awareness of the risk alcohol poses or any guidance on its consumption when crew are of duty and living on board a vessel while in port.

"Boarding a fishing vessel from a quayside while under the infuence of alcohol, and then negotiating the ladders and hatches on board, poses considerable risk. Regrettably, all too often the dangers of consuming alcohol are overlooked.

"This has led to a significant number of fatal accident investigations by the MAIB involving fshermen who have consumed too much alcohol ashore before returning to their vessels."

The MAIB said that one in four of the branch's work in 2018 involved investigating fatal fishing vessel accidents.

In August 2018, Duncan Matheson, 63, was working as a deckhand on the Fram of Shieldaig in Loch Torridon when he died after he slipped or stumbled while manoeuvring the small tender alongside a moored fishing boat.

An MAIB investigation found he was not wearing a lifejacket and that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time and that that had been a contributory factor in the accident.

In May, last year, Scottish fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing announced the creation of a new group to advise on health and safety on Scottish commercial fishing vessels.

The Herald:

In the Artemis case, the MAIB said modifications to the design of the wheelhouse hatch had increased the likelihood of someone falling through the opening.

The trawler was travelling from Fraserburgh to Cornwall and had stopped off at Kilkeel harbour for repairs when the incident happened.

Mr Hay and another crew member went to a local pub for three hours and drunk whisky and beer.

When they returned, Mr Hay fell head-first through the hatch. It was not known if he slipped, tripped or stumbled.

The alarm was raised and emergency services arrived, but Mr Hay - who had been involved in fishing since he was a teenager - was declared dead.

The report said: "It was apparent that the access route layout, which had been modified after build, and the effects of alcohol consumption had both contributed to the fall and the severity of the injuries suffered."

And it further warned of the dangers of alcohol.

"Artemis was in port and its skipper and deckhand were not undertaking any work activities when the accident happened," the MAIB said. "Nevertheless, access to and from fishing vessels in port, and movement around their decks can be very hazardous.

"While limited alcohol consumption by crew living on board fishing vessels when in port and of duty might be considered acceptable, excessive consumption will severely undermine an individual’s judgment and coordination.

The Herald:

"A fishing vessel owner’s drug and alcohol policy that provides a clear definition of when crew are on or of duty, and ensures that they are aware of the circumstances under which they may be required to undergo drug and alcohol testing, can help prevent future accidents."

The SFIA added: "The tragic death of skipper Andrew Hay aboard the FV Artemis in Kilkeel on 29 April 2019 is the latest in a series of fatal accidents in recent years involving commercial fishermen returning to their vessels in harbour under the influence of alcohol. The fishing industry is working hard to bring an end to these avoidable tragedies.

"A contributory factor in this accident was the unsafe modification of the wheelhouse access to the mess deck.

"In 2018 the Maritime & Coastguard Agency amended its Fishing Vessel Codes of Safe Working Practice to introduce a requirement that substantial modifications or alterations carried out to the structure or machinery of a vessel must be notified to MCA prior to work taking place.

"However, there are a lot of fishing vessels out there (like the Artemis) which have been already been modified. Seafish urges owners of all such vessels to reassess the modifications for any unforeseen safety impacts arising from the modifications; the Seafish construction standards for fishing vessels less than 24m (available on our website) provide a benchmark for comparison.”