FAILURE to meet fishing vessel safety provisions contributed to the loss of the Skerries owned trawler Ocean Way last year according to a report released today (Thursday) by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).
The flooding and foundering of the vessel 18 nautical miles north east of Lerwick, 10 miles east of Whalsay, happened in slight seas, otherwise she could have capsized with tragic consequences for the crew and lifeboatmen, the report adds.
It says that the trawler's lower aft hull was "almost certainly" breached by the sharp corner of twisted trawl door which led to the flooding of the aft compartment, a major buoyancy area not served by a bilge suction pipe, contrary to rules – and a "non-compliance" not picked up in repeated inspections by Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyors.
Ocean Way sank on 3 March in spite of a prolonged battle by the five crew and two lifeboatmen who boarded with pumps because she shipped an estimated 61 tonnes of water before the sea reached an escape hatch to the crew quarters that was open to allow pumping.
Then the vessel went down rapidly by the stern leaving the seven men to jump for their lives into the sea, where they were picked up by the lifeboat.
The skipper of Ocean Way was Steven Hughson, with two other local men and two Latvian crewmen on board.
According to an independent analysis commissioned by the MAIB, the report says the vessel would have lost its "righting lever" after shipping 20 tonnes of water – meaning she could well have capsized had the sea conditions been rougher.
Although the crew undertook fortnightly drills, as well as when a new crew member joined, the report says they were not prepared for the scale of flooding they faced on the day of the accident.
"In the absence of any information on damaged stability, the skipper and crew of Ocean Way were not equipped to assess the risks posed by flooding and develop appropriate procedures," it adds.
Only two hours elapsed between Ocean Way's gear becoming tangled on the seabed and the 24m long trawler sinking at 8.34am. It was after freeing herself that the crew felt the heavy strike of the port trawl door on the vessel as the gear was being hauled.
A minute after the impact the bilge alarm sounded and the engineer saw water flowing into the bilges through the drain valve from the aft compartment. As the vessel lost trim to the stern, the bilge pumps became ineffective and were eventually shut off, as was the valve from the aft section.
This meant the only means of clearing the water was a portable pump that was lowered into the cabin via the escape hatch inside the net drum enclosure at the aft of the vessel. The coastguard rescue helicopter and salmon carrier Gerda Saele were in attendance and Gerda Saele passed a pump to Ocean Way which was also used to evacuate the crew quarters.
That was eventually reinforced by a powerful pump from the Lerwick lifeboat, but it was too late to save the 1996 built trawler from sinking.
According to the report, had Ocean Way taken a pump from the rescue helicopter, more water might have been pumped out earlier. But the skipper was having difficulty maintaining a steady course and was reluctant to manoeuvre to take on the pump with the lifeboat approaching rapidly.
Ironically, the report says, had the aft compartment valve been left open, some trim would have been restored to the vessel allowing the bilge pumps to operate more efficiently. But this would have been counterintuitive for the crew who were trying to contain the flooding.
The MAIB has issued a safety flyer to the fishing industry designed to raise awareness of the lessons identified during the investigation and has issued a marine guidance notice offering advice for fishing vessel crews on conducting emergency drills.