Page last updated at 23:26 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 00:26 UK

Investigation into barge deaths

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The men became unconscious after entering a hold on the barge

An investigation is under way to find out why two men collapsed and died on a fish farming barge in Argyll.

A third man was in a stable condition after being airlifted from the barge on Loch Creran, a sea loch north of Oban.

It was understood a crane had failed and the men became unconscious after entering a hold to inspect hydraulic pipes.

Coastguards said they believed rusting metal in a confined space had removed oxygen from the air.

The emergency services were alerted at about 1150 BST on Monday after reports that three men had collapsed.

A Royal Navy helicopter flew the surviving worker to Lorn and Isles Hospital in Oban.

It was initially thought the men had died after being overcome by noxious fumes but coastguards later said they most likely suffocated.

Location of Loch Creran

A Clyde Coastguard spokesman said: "There was a problem with the crane on the barge and the men went to look at some hydraulic pipes in a hold.

"They vented it for about 15 minutes, but when the first man went down he became unconscious almost immediately.

"An engineer then went down but could feel himself starting to lapse out of consciousness and came back up."

It is understood the third man then went to investigate wearing some sort of respiratory mask and he too became unconscious.

The spokesman added: "Because the barge is made of metal and steel it rusts, and that depletes oxygen levels."

A spokeswoman for Scottish Sea Farms, which owns the barge, said: "It is with great sadness that SSF can confirm an accident at our farm in Loch Creran, Argyll, has resulted in two fatalities and injury to a third colleague.

"Our immediate concern and condolences are for the families affected by this tragic accident.

"SSF are co-operating fully with the Health and Safety Executive and relevant authorities in this matter."

The Norwegian-owned salmon farming operation has around 300 employees and 44 sites across Scotland.

Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive are expected to visit the barge as part of their investigation.



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