Poor maintenance and lack of regulatory surveillance contributed to fishing vessel sinking

Photo: Tibbie Adams via TSB
Photo: Tibbie Adams via TSB

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has published its investigation report into the August 2020 sinking of the fishing vessel Arctic Fox II near Bamfield, British Columbia. The incident resulted in the death of two crewmembers.

On August 11, 2020, when Arctic Fox IIs master departed for the fishing grounds on the occurrence voyage with two other crew members on board, both he and the vessel’s owner perceived that the risks of the planned fishing operation had been addressed sufficiently. Their perceptions of risk were likely influenced by economic incentives, approvals and certificates, and many successful voyages.

In the early hours of the morning of August 11, Arctic Fox II reported taking on water. The master attempted to deal with the water ingress and safety-critical tasks unassisted and ordered the crew members to prepare to abandon the vessel. As the vessel drifted and rolled in the sea conditions, waves landed on deck, making it difficult for the master and crew members to maintain their balance.

The TSB said the master and crew were unfamiliar with the instructions for deploying the liferaft and, in their efforts to deploy the raft, its painter line was disconnected from the vessel and went overboard. Shortly afterwards, the master and one of the crew members entered the water with their immersion suit only partially zipped and with ankle straps unsecured. Consequently, they were exposed to the elements and eventually drowned.

The familiarisation of the life-saving equipment that the crew received was insufficient for them to successfully abandon the vessel, and the crew’s response was guided only by their limited experience. The one surviving crew member who managed to reach the liferaft was later rescued by the US Coast Guard.

The investigation found that insufficient vessel maintenance and the absence of regulatory surveillance contributed to the vessel taking on water and eventually sinking. This occurrence highlights the need for Transport Canada to provide more surveillance and monitoring to effectively ensure that vessel owners and authorised representatives take ownership of their safety responsibilities and comply with regulatory requirements.

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