£100k fine handed to operator for vessel modification resulting in two deaths

£100k fine handed to operator for vessel modification
£100k fine handed to operator for vessel modification

A Brixham, UK based fishing vessel operator has been ordered by a court to pay more than £100,000 after a vessel modification caused it to capsize, leading to the deaths of two people onboard. Joanna C had a major refit in 2019, including the addition of a whaleback, extension of the wheelhouse and raised bulwarks being added. That fatal incident happened in 2020 when the vessel’s gear snagged on the seabed. Its lack of stability meant it could not recover, causing the boat to sink rapidly. Only one crewmember of three survived.

“This is a tragic reminder that modifications to vessels should be planned and their effects on the vessel’s stability properly investigated using appropriate professionals,” says Mark Cam, senior investigator with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) regulatory compliance investigations team.

“Companies are responsible for providing a safe place of work for their employees wherever that may be. The court has found that Laura D Fishing Ltd [the operating company] did not take all reasonable steps to operate the Joanna C in a safe manner and this led to the [two] deaths.”

West Hampshire Magistrates Court was told that extensive changes made to the boat, not approved by MCA, made it significantly non-compliant with the minimum standards of stability. The vessel continued commercial operations however, without considering the impact and risks of the modifications.

Laura D Fishing was fined £36,000, and ordered to pay £69,284 in costs and a £190 surcharge.

Vessel owners must ensure their vessels meet the required safety standards despite changes made, to avoid incidents like this happening, says MCA. And vessel modifications should only be carried out following consultation with and approval of the MCA, as outlined in Marine Shipping Notice (MSN) 1871 Amendment 1.

MAIB’s investigation found that through-life modifications, culminating in extensive alterations in 2019, had reduced Joanna C’s previously good stability to a state where it had very low reserves of positive stability and increased vulnerability to capsize. Although a stability assessment had begun after the 2019 modifications, the analysis was never completed, and the vessel was free to continue operation.

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