Lack of risk assessment contributes to sinking of fishing vessel says MCIB report

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board of Ireland (MCIB) has published its report on the sinking of FV Aztec, which took place off Duncannon on 11 January 2021.

The FV Aztec sailed from Duncannon Pier, Co. Wexford to fish sprat in Waterford Estuary alongside its paired trawler the “FV Western Dawn”. There was no risk assessment or method statement for this type of fishing arrangement included in the vessel’s safety statement.

The FV Aztec shot its net first and hauled fish at 09.30 hrs. These fish were stowed in pounds in the fish hold divided by boards. It was estimated that this haul was in the region of at least eight tonnes of fish. The load condition stability calculations carried out in 2017 allowed for ten tonnes of loose fish in pounds in the fish hold. These were placed in the fish hold filling from the after end first.

At 10.00 hrs the FV Western Dawn shot its net for the FV Aztec to take the end for the next tow. During this operation, the towing weight for the net dropped from the gunwale onto the starboard aft deck of the FV Aztec. This punctured a hole of approximately 300 centimetres in the deck roughly 200cm forward of the transom. Due to the amount of gear around this area of the deck the damage went undiscovered. The fishing weight was made up of a collection of chain and weighed 350 kg.

At approximately 10.45 hrs the FV Western Dawn hauled its net and the FV Aztec passed back the end of the net to it. It was then decided to pass fish from the FV Western Dawn’s net to the “FV Aztec. The crew of the FV Western Dawn passed over the bag rope and this was hauled up on the main winch aft. The bag rope from the FV Western Dawn was heaved across to the FV Aztec using the main winch through the aft starboard towing block.

The Gilsen winch and lifting derrick are situated starboard forward. The Gilsen winch was then secured to the bag rope/lifting strop and the cod end was taken onboard, one lift at a time allowing the fish to enter the fish room via scuppers on the deck. The securing of the bag rope on the aft starboard hanging block and subsequent lifting of the cod end lift caused the vessel to list to starboard and immerse the hole on the aft starboard side of the deck.

As the fish were being taken onboard the FV Aztec the skipper noticed the water was not clearing off the aft deck in the usual manner. At the same time a crewmember noticed water flooding into the steering compartment through a hole in the deck. The crewmember attempted to stem the flow with an oilskin and alerted the skipper.

As the steering compartment flooded, the vessel lost its reserve buoyancy aft and began to settle by the stern. The crew tried to let go the net as the Skipper manoeuvred alongside the FV Western Dawn. Once alongside, with the stern going under water the skipper of the FV Aztec instructed the crew to abandon ship and to transfer across to the other vessel. At this stage the fish hold bilge alarm sounded as it began to flood through deck scuppers and the open hatch.

The crew of the FV Aztec successfully transferred to the FV Western Dawn and watched their boat sink in less than one minute. The vessel settled by the stern as the water filled into the fish hold and into the engine room through the open watertight door.

There were no risk assessments or method statements for pair trawling listed in the FV Aztec’s safety statement. Effective risk assessments and procedures would have highlighted dangers associated with pair trawling.

The vessel was heavily laden at the time and dependant on the buoyancy provided by the steering compartment to maintain its longitudinal stability. Although not required, the FV Aztec had stability calculations done in 2017 for ten tonnes of fish in the hold. These stability calculations concentrated on lateral stability and did not address longitudinal aspects of stability. It was stated during recovery operations that the FV Aztec had between ten and 12 tonnes of fish onboard. Although no limits are set for vessels of this size, the loading of the vessel was a contributory factor in the sinking. This must take into account the weight of the catch onboard as well as the positioning of fish in the hold. The effect of the additional catch being taken onboard at the time of the incident will have also caused considerable settling by the stern and listing to starboard. The combination of these forces will have left the longitudinal stability of the vessel dependant on the buoyancy provided by the steering compartment.

Finally, the steering compartment of the FV Aztec had no bilge alarm fitted and no means of directly pumping out this compartment. A small drain hole allowed water to drain from the steering compartment onto the fish hold.

MCIB Recommendations

– The Minister for Transport should issue a Marine Notice to owners/skippers of fishing vessels reminding them to be aware of the safe loading capacity of their vessels. Also, to be aware where the stability in a loaded state is dependent on a compartment’s watertight integrity it is advisable that compartment is alarmed and has a means of being pumped out.
– The Minister for Transport should issue a Marine Notice to owners/skippers of fishing vessels reminding them that where an area of deck is subjected to regular working and shock loading, consideration should be given to re-enforcing and strengthening that area.
– The Minister for Transport should review the Code of Practice for Fishing Vessels under 15 meters to take into account heave loadings on decks during fishing operations.
– The Minister for Transport should review the Code of Practice for Fishing Vessels under 15 meters to take into account the maximum load of bulk fish a vessel is authorised to carry.

Download the full MCIB report: MCIB FV Aztec Report

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