SIC - Orkney & Shetland valuation joint board

Critical MAIB report into sinking of Majestic

The wooden creel boat Majestic was built in 1977 - Photo: Ian Leask

THE ENGINE room of a Shetland fishing vessel, lost on 21 January this year, had been flooding for up to an hour before the crew noticed, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said on Wednesday.

In the agency’s report into the sinking of the Majestic, the two men crewing the 16-metre wooden potter were criticised for leaving the wheelhouse unattended, for not making any attempts to stop the water ingress, for working and abandoning ship without wearing a lifejacket, and for not routinely carrying out emergency drills.

Because the two brothers were working on the deck, thereby leaving the wheelhouse unattended, neither of them heard the bilge alarms over the noise of the other equipment that was in operation.

The Majestic was just north of the Point of Fethaland, off the north coast of Shetland, when the vessel was starting to take in water between 9 and 10am that morning.

While the cause of flooding isn’t known for certain, the MAIB said it was likely that a material failure of pipework or a seal on one of the engine room seawater systems was to blame.

When the skipper became aware of the ingress of water the crew instantly prepared to abandon ship without making any attempts to stop the water from flooding the engine room.

They were rescued from their liferaft by the crew of the local fishing boat Fairway at 10.33am and watched their own vessel sinking four hours later at 2.43pm.

The Sumburgh based coastguard helicopter was diverted to the scene from a training exercise nearby.

In their report, investigators highlighted again that the wheelhouse “must not be left unattended”, while acknowledging that this was still common practice for many.

“The desire to minimise manpower costs and the reported difficulties in recruiting fishermen often results in minimum crewing that makes it likely that the wheelhouse on board many fishing vessels will be left unattended during certain phases of the fishing process,” the report said.

“However, as leaving wheelhouse unattended for short periods is likely to persist, it would be beneficial for safety-critical alarms to be audible throughout a vessel, and not only in the wheelhouse.

“In this respect, a two stage alarm similar to a navigation watch alarm, in which a general alarm sounds when an initial alarm has been acknowledged within a defined time period, could be of benefit.”

Investigators also noted that several actions were not taken that potentially could have delayed the need to abandon and might have prevented the vessel’s loss.

As such, the electric bilge pump was not switched on and the vessel’s main engine was not stopped.

Both these actions could have reduced the flooding rate by 50 per cent, the MAIB said, while also further decreasing the ingress rate.

The MAIB observed: “The effectiveness of the crew’s response to the flood was probably reduced by not routinely conducting emergency drills”.

The agency has now issued a flyer to the fishing industry highlighting the safety issues identified in their report.

In addition they are recommending the owners of the Majestic to ensure on any vessel they own or skipper in the future that:

  • the dangers of leaving the wheelhouse unattended are fully assessed so that practical measures can be adopted to mitigate such risks;
  • emergency drills are conducted in accordance with the rules and;
  • life jackets are worn by all crew working on the open deck at sea.

The Majestic settled on the seabed just two metres from Orka Voe gas pipeline, owned by BP. The oil company has put sandbags between the wreck and the pipeline to prevent damage to the pipeline. A 500-metre temporary exclusion zone has been established over the site.