Effectiveness of lifejackets called into question by MAIB report on the foundering of fishing vessel Louisa

Photograph of Louisa recovery
Photograph of Louisa recovery

Early on 9 April 2016, the fishing vessel Louisa foundered, with the loss of three lives, while anchored close to the shore in Mingulay Bay in the Outer Hebrides.

The skipper and crew, who had been working long hours before anchoring late the previous evening, had woken suddenly as the vessel was sinking rapidly by the bow. They were able to escape to the aft deck, activate the emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), and to don lifejackets. However, they were unable to inflate the liferaft as they abandoned the vessel.

At 0232, an alert from Louisa’s EPIRB was detected by a geostationary search and rescue satellite and forwarded through the Cospas-Sarsat system to the United Kingdom Mission Control Centre (UKMCC). The UKMCC relayed the alert to HM Coastguard, but confusion over terminology resulted in delays before search and rescue units were sent to the scene. When Barra lifeboat arrived in Mingulay Bay, the crew were able to assist one crewman, who had swum to the shore and climbed onto rocks.

They located the uninflated liferaft and beside it found the skipper and one crewman unresponsive and face down in the water, despite wearing approved abandonment lifejackets. The other crewman had attempted to swim to the shore and was found, also face down and unresponsive, still wearing his lifejacket, close to the beach. The skipper’s body was lost as the lifeboat crew attempted to recover him and remains missing.

The MAIB investigation included salvaging the wreck to determine the cause of flooding, inspection and testing of the liferaft, lifejacket trials and testing, and a review of the search and rescue response. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has since taken action to enhance its guidance in respect of liferaft servicing requirements. The circumstances of this accident, and subsequent trials and testing undertaken, have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the lifejackets worn by Louisa’s skipper and crew.

Recommendations have been made to Louisa’s owners regarding vessel maintenance, safety equipment servicing and risk assessments, and to the liferaft servicing company and its sub-contractor in respect of work processes.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been recommended to: urgently conduct research designed to confirm or otherwise the suitability of lifejacket water performance test requirements, and to bring any shortcomings identified to the attention of the International Maritime Organization; and to update and enhance its response to satellite distress beacon alerts.

Read the report in full: MAIBInvReport17_2017

Read the safety flyer issues subsequently: Louisa MAIB Flyer

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