A 41-year-old Digby County man has been slapped with more than $60,000 in fines and penalties for violations of occupational diving regulations and ignoring a stop-work order.
Frank Joseph (Joey) Oickle was sentenced Tuesday in Digby provincial court. The owner of CJM Fisheries Ltd. was charged after a sea urchin diver he hired was lost at sea in February 2012, and another was almost lost eight months later.
Oickle hired Larry Collins, a diver from Ontario, and another man in January 2012 through an Internet ad.
An agreed statement of facts filed with the court said that Oickle violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act by not making sure that Collins had a current certificate of medical fitness, and by telling his crew not to worry about filling out diving logs unless an inspector showed up.
He also had no dive plan, didn’t mark the dive site, and had none of the required safety precautions in place for a dive without a lifeline.
There was no two-way voice communication with the surface, also required under the occupational diving regulations because of the currents in the area, the statement said.
Collins and two other men were diving at 22 metres in rough seas in the Grand Passage, between Brier and Long islands.
One of the other divers, who had prior experience, said Collins was having trouble maintaining his position on the ocean bottom because of the currents, said the statement of facts.
Eighteen minutes later, that diver surfaced and was picked up by the boat, and found out that the two new divers were not on board. The third was found a distance away, but a search for Collins by a number of boats and the Canadian Coast Guard was unsuccessful.
Among other violations, Labour Department investigators found that Oickle didn’t have records to prove the fitness of his diving equipment and didn’t provide adequate training, supervision or facilities to his crew.
After the incident, he asked one of the other divers to backdate some divers logbooks, but the diver refused to do so, the statement of facts said.
A stop-work order was placed on Oickle, banning him from any underwater diving operations. But he ignored that, and hired divers for three trips in October 2012.
Nothing had changed, Crown attorney Alex Keaveny said after the sentencing. On the third of those trips, one of the divers surfaced a distance from the boat, and no one could see him or hear his air horn. When he couldn’t be located, Oickle contacted the coast guard.
“Thankfully, the diver just happened to drift by a coast guard cutter about eight kilometres from where (Oickle) last saw him, on his way out to sea,” Keaveny said “Miraculously, he didn’t die.”
Keaveny said the current was moving at about 10 kilometres an hour.
“There are boats that couldn’t work against that current,” he said.
The prosecutor had asked Judge Timothy Landry to sentence Oickle to nine months in jail or a $100,000 fine, for two counts of violating the occupational diving regulations and one of ignoring a stop-work order. Defence lawyer Darren MacLeod had asked for $15,000 to $25,000 in fines and penalties.
Landry went with a total of $62,150, which Keaveny said is highest penalty against an individual he has seen in Nova Scotia.
“It’s a significant penalty,” Keaveny said.
“It was a flagrant disregard for the regulations and the requirements. Hopefully we can get the message out that when you take this cavalier approach, there are consequences.”
That amount included fines and donations to an education fund, and an order to spend $2,500 for advertising to make 10 presentations to diving training schools about the incident.
Keaveny said the stop-work order remains in place, but it is only enforceable in Nova Scotia, and he thinks Oickle is working out of province.