Fishing Vessel Safety

31st January 2008

Fishing Vessel Safety

Initial Report

CHIRP Narrative: The safety of fishing vessels and the people working on them is an on-going concern.  However the concept of near-miss reporting is not yet well established across the fishing industry.  The value of near-miss reports is that lessons can be learned from situations in which there has been no harm to people.  We are of course also able to learn from more tragic incidents.  The reports published by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) are an excellent source of information.  We summarise below some that have been published in recent months.

Loss of a fishing vessel with the loss of four crew 160nm due east of Aberdeen on 26 October 2006. (Report 20/2007 published September 2007)

The vessel was being used as a guard ship for oil pipeline construction activities. The weather deteriorated. The only signal of the vessel’s distress and loss came from her EPIRB. Despite an extensive search of the seabed lasting some months, the wreck was not found. The MAIB therefore had to use its best judgment in assessing the most probable cause of the sinking.

The report concluded that the catastrophic chain of events which led to the loss of the vessel included a large amount of sea water being trapped momentarily on deck between the vessel’s half shelter and her bulwarks. In her intact condition, the vessel was almost unsinkable. For her to have foundered she must have suffered down-flooding through an open door or hatchway, or because of the failure of parts of her structure.

The MAIB is publishing a two-page flyer highlighting the lessons to be learned from this tragic accident.

As well as publishing comprehensive reports on individual accidents, the MAIB also publishes a quarterly Safety Digest of lessons learned from marine accident reports. Digest 3/2007 includes six reports of accidents on fishing vessels, summarised below.

1) “Too Much Up Top”

A 10m GRP trawler was heaving in her trawl wires when an abnormal load came on the gear, possibly due to boulders in the cod end of the net. During the efforts to recover the net, it was suspended from the high gantry. This resulted in a loss of stability and capsizing of the vessel. The crew were able to escape to a liferaft. Vessels of this size are not required to have a liferaft or EPIRB. Fortunately the vessel was equipped with both and the two crewmen were saved.

2) “Not Dressed For The Job”

An injured fisherman was being airlifted by helicopter in gale force conditions. He was wearing a survival suit but not a lifejacket. It became necessary for the helicopter crew to guillotine the winch wire because the crew man was being dragged violently towards the boat’s rail. He went overboard. Fortunately, as he was conscious, he was able to float face up. He was skilfully recovered by the fishing boat and was subsequently transferred to a lifeboat.

The report notes that this vessel carried mandatory type approved lifejackets which, although ideal for abandonment, are impossible to wear on a regular basis and would have been extremely cumbersome during this rescue. The report recommends that self-inflating lifejackets should also be provided for daily wear.

3) “Shrimp Boiler Lights Up Engine Room”

A diesel-fuelled shrimp boiler caught fire. The fire spread to the whole engine room. The skipper attempted to stop the engine using the remote fuel pump stop in the wheelhouse. This was unsuccessful because the linkage had broken. The crew were taken off by lifeboat and the fishing boat was towed back to harbour still on fire.

4) “Spot the Difference”

This report is about two similar incidents in which a crew member’s foot became caught in pot ropes as they were paid out over the stern.. In one case, the man was airlifted to safety and made a full recovery. In the other a man tragically  lost his life. Neither was wearing a lifejacket.

5) “Trim For Safety, Not For Catching Fish”

A  20m GRP trawler was returning to port after poor fishing. She had used all the fuel in her forward tank and the fresh water from her fore-peak. There was little weight in the forward fish room. Seawater entered an obsolete fuel tank at the stern. The stern trim increased and a list developed. The crew were airlifted to safety before the vessel sank.

6) “Both Sides of the Same Coin”

This report describes the circumstances on a fishing vessel and on a tanker before they collided. The crewman on watch on the fishing vessel had received 5 hours sleep the previous morning and had not slept for the 24 hours before that. The crewman described the watch alarm as snooze alarm, and used it as such to check the course before returning to his slumbers. On the tanker the OOW was concentrating on handing over the watch to his relief rather than on the approaching fishing vessel.

The full reports are available on the Internet:

For each of the type of incidents described in the MAIB reports, there were undoubtedly many near misses in the industry beforehand from which lessons could have been learned.  CHIRP would welcome more near-miss reports, with the lessons learned being applied to reduce the number of accidents such as those described above.

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