Safety alert issued about vessel stability and watertight integrity following fatalities

Photo credit: USCG
Photo credit: USCG

The US Coast Guard has issued an interim safety alert to address its concerns regarding vessel stability and watertight integrity, especially in light of a recent marine casualty in the Bering Sea that resulted in multiple fatalities and the total loss of the fishing vessel involved.

Although the investigation is not complete, testimony and fact finding indicate that vessel owners, operators, and crews should give special consideration to vessel stability concerns.

As a result, USCG suggests that operators and crew should seek out opportunities to further their knowledge of stability via courses, training, workshops, and visits from Naval Architects. They should also take advantage of other various initiatives, both mandatory and voluntary, to discuss and compare a vessel’s current SI to the actual loaded condition prior to departing port. An independent review of a vessel’s loaded condition, equipment, and operations can often provide important insights.

Operators can significantly reduce the risk of capsizing by performing the following actions:
– Routinely review and update vessel SI
– Stay below the limits for vessel and cargo detailed in SI
– Ensure SI reflect the vessel’s current arrangement, equipment, and operations (lightship and loaded cargo/fishing gear conditions)
– Follow good marine practice by re-assessing the SI every five years

Operators should confirm the accuracy of their SI whenever a vessel undergoes any of the following actions:
– Major conversions or substantial alterations (See 46 CFR 28.50 and 28.501, respectively)
– Changes to a vessel’s rigging, deck, or fishing equipment (including pots)
– Changes in principal dimensions, cargo hold, or tank capacities
– Circumstances of weight creep (i.e., the accumulation of extra gear, equipment, and parts carried aboard the vessel)
– Any other weight change variations which may occur

Carry pots
– Pay special attention to pot weights
– Annually weigh a percentage of them to verify if the actual weight (including shots of line and buoys) matches that recorded in the SI
– Weigh them wet – soaked lines can add as much as 15 pounds per shot
– Consult a Naval Architect for loading recommendations and amendments if pots are heavier than what is listed in the SI.

Further, USCG underlines that icing makes a vessel dangerously unstable. Unless tested for a value over 1.3 inches, a vessel’s capsizing and sinking risk increases when that value is exceeded on horizontal surfaces. A vessel’s centre of gravity can rapidly rise when freezing spray accumulates high above the main deck.

Operators should perform the following actions to maintain watertight integrity:
– Follow SI associated with watertight doors (WTDs) and hatches
– Frequently train and inform crew to habitually close watertight doors and hatches at sea
– Label WTDs to be closed
– Keep hatches closed to the greatest extent possible
– Practice closing WTDs that are routinely permitted to be open during emergency drills.

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