Tragedy aboard the fishing vessel, Louisa (SY30), should be a reminder that fatigue can kill

Back in April 2016, the fishing vessel, Louisa (SY30), encountered a tragedy, with the unfortunate drowning of its skipper and two of his crew.

Having worked a long day, the skipper and his crew retired for bed for the night, anchoring the vessel close to the shore in Mingulay Bay in the Outer Hebrides. In the early hours of the following morning, they were awoken to the vessel sinking. While able to escape to the aft deck, put on lifejackets and activate an EPIRB, they were unable to inflate the life raft in time in order to disembark the vessel and reach safety.  While one member of the crew was able to survive, two crewmen and the skipper were found unresponsive and later declared deceased.

An official investigation into the tragedy has revealed a number of factors contributed to the incident, including faulty equipment, inadequate risk assessment, a disabled alarm, and crew fatigue, which may have impaired their mental alertness and performance.

Investigations indicate that the state that the vessel was left in, prior to crew retiring for the night, was inconsistent with best practice, and that staff had underestimated the risk of flooding and foundering. The wheelhouse was left unmanned, with the engine running at slow speed and the propeller engaged astern, and the vivier system pump driven from the main engine power take off. In addition, all doors (to machinery and accommodation) remained open and the hold hatch cover was in an open position.  There is a strong likelihood that the cause of the vessel filling with water and sinking was the result of a deck wash pump left running overnight, which in turn flooded the hold through the open hold hatch.

In addition, the hold bilge alarm had been switched off, which meant that the skipper and crew were not notified early enough of the flooding which was taking place while they were asleep.

Inquiries into the flooding and subsequent drowning of crew also show that the skipper and crew were not equipped with personal locator beacons and the vessel was not transmitting an AIS signal. This meant that rescue services were delayed as they relied on gathering local information while awaiting confirmation of the vessels position from its EPIRB.

Safety at sea is seriously compromised by fatigue, and it is likely that exhaustion played a key role in this incident. Working long hours can affect physical and mental awareness and performance, as well as change the level of risk that a person is willing to accept. The long working hours imposed on the crew was likely to have driven them to such a state of tiredness, that their decision making ability was impaired, in turn compromising their safety – leading to catastrophic consequences.

Those operating or working on fishing vessels are reminded to rigorously check that their safety equipment (such as life jackets, life rafts, EPIRBS, flares etc) is maintained and up to date, ensure that they receive adequate rest to avoid the onset of fatigue, and implement a risk and safety management system.  Ocean Time Marine can help you minimize hazards aboard your vessel and ensure you stay up to date with regulatory compliance, vessel procedures, and emergency operations, with their interactive safety management templates.

It is anticipated that discussing this incident will raise the issue of safety for those in the maritime community, and lead to improved safety for all those who own or operate boats.

Maritime Survey Australia can help with periodic surveying of your safety equipment, machinery and engineering, and navigational equipment on board your Domestic Commercial Vessel.



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