Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 18:46 UK

Firm fined 280,000 over deaths

Viking Islay
The men died on board support ship Viking Islay

A shipping firm has been fined £280,000 over safety breaches that led to the deaths of three men in September 2007.

Vroon Offshore Services admitted three breaches of merchant shipping regulations at Sheffield Crown Court.

Finlay MacFadyen, 46, Robert O'Brien, 59, and Robert Ebertowski, 40, all suffocated to death in the anchor chain locker of the Viking Islay ship.

Judge Robert Moore ruled that if the vessel had had an oxygen meter on board the deaths could have been prevented.

The men, who were from Scotland and Poland, died aboard the rescue support ship on 23 September, 2007.

The Viking Islay was operating in the Amethyst gas field, off the mouth of the River Humber, when the accident happened.

The court heard how Mr Ebertowski had gone into the confined space to secure a banging chain that was keeping the crew awake.


He had gone through a hatch into the normally-sealed locker and, when he collapsed, Mr O'Brien probably went in to help him but was also overcome by the lack of oxygen.

The court was told that Mr MacFadyen raised the alarm and then tried to enter the small chamber wearing breathing apparatus, but could not get through the hatch.

He tried again, using a different breathing apparatus, but he too collapsed when it was dislodged.

All three men were airlifted to Hull Royal Infirmary where they were pronounced dead, the court heard.

RAF Sea King
The RAF airlifted the men to hospital, but they later died

Judge Moore said the most serious of the firm's failings had been not providing an oxygen meter on the ship, despite a request by the captain for such a device at a safety meeting six months before the accident.

He said: "It's clear to me that, contrary to the defence submissions, the failure to provide an oxygen meter was causative of the deaths."

But the judge conceded: "There remains a possibility the men may still have opened this dangerous space and gone into it without using the meter."

Earlier this month, a jury cleared the ship's captain, Donald Fryer, from Hull, of failing to discharge his duties properly in such a manner as to cause the deaths.

The ship provides emergency and rescue services to the offshore industry in the North Sea and had been standing by for a routine helicopter take-off at the platform just before the incident.

Former Black Watch soldier and grandfather of five Mr O'Brien was from Leven, Fife.

Mr MacFadyen was from Aberdeen and Mr Ebertowski, who left a young son Mateusz, was from Gdynia in Poland.

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