AN award-winning oyster farmer drowned in freezing water as he tried to rescue equipment that had broken loose, an inquiry has found.

Hugo Vajk was harvesting oysters from his farm in the water of Loch Creran, near Oban, Argyll, when he got into difficulty in January 2018.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry into the incident heard that the 62-year-old and his colleague Marcin Sapinski were both working at low tide when a plastic floating platform they were using broke free and floated into deeper water.

Mr Vajk, who was not wearing a lifejacket, swam after it but was spotted motionless shortly after.

Mr Sapinski tried to swim out to rescue him, but the water was too cold and he began to experience breathing difficulties.

He decided to turn back to the shore and call for help.

By the time the emergency services arrived, they found Mr Vajk - who ran the Caledonian Oyster Co with his wife Judith - unresponsive in the water around 200m from the shoreline and five metres from the edge of the oyster farm.

He was taken to the Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban but was pronounced dead two hours later.

A post-mortem confirmed that he had drowned and noted a history of asthma.

The FAI into the death at work took place at Oban Sheriff Court.

In a decision published yesterday, Sheriff Patrick Hughes ruled that Mr Vajk, who was born in France, drowned after becoming incapacitated and would have experienced breathing difficulties due to the cold water.

He added: “The representatives of both the Crown and Mr Vajk’s family sought only formal findings.

“I agree that no further findings are necessary.

“It is clear that Mr Vajk drowned after becoming incapacitated whilst swimming after the raft.

“The most likely explanation for this is that he experienced the same breathing difficulties caused by the cold water that were described by Mr Sapinski; in Mr Vajk’s case these problems may have been exacerbated by his asthma.

“Swimming would also have been made more difficult by his clothing becoming waterlogged.

“At the hearing on 27 January 2020 I expressed my condolences to those members of Mr Vajk’s family who were present in court.

“I do so again now, and hope that this determination may offer them some degree of closure.”

Mr and Mrs Vajk began running the farm in 1995 after returning to Scotland following spells working in France and Guernsey.

The couple have a son and two daughters.

Their company won top prize for Best Native Oysters at the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers annual conference in Oban in October 2017, having won the same award in 2014.

Following her husband’s death, Mrs Vajk the family had been left shocked by what happened.

“He was a great husband and he was a well respected oyster farmer,” she said. “He knew his job inside out.

“He wasn’t Scottish, but he loved living up here and he loved spending time with his children.

“He loved sailing. He was a member of Oban Sailing Club.

“He was just working at low tide. He ended up in the water and a colleague could not get him out. We are all just shocked about it.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the accident and noted it was not common to wear buoyancy aids while oyster farming because they normally work in water just a metre deep and because of an increased risk of snagging.