The US Coast Guard has issued to following safety alert:
A marine casualty in March of 2008 involving a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea resulted in multiple
fatalities and complete loss of the vessel. A Marine Board of Investigation is currently examining the
various circumstances surrounding the casualty. Although the investigation is not complete, safety
issues associated with casualty have been identified that merit immediate public dissemination.
Based on the survivors’ testimony, the crew experienced difficulty with launching and entering the
three liferafts because the vessel was making considerable sternway when the order to abandon ship
was issued. Evidence indicates the main engines were still running and the vessel was backing with
significant astern pitch. Consequently, two of the liferafts quickly traveled forward past the bow of the
vessel when they were launched. Attempts to retrieve the liferafts using the painter lines were
unsuccessful. As a result, the majority of the crew members were forced to jump into the 34°F water
and attempt to swim to the liferafts. Ultimately, only 22 members of the vessel’s crew made it into the
liferafts. All of these crew members survived. Of the other 25 crew members who never made it into
a liferaft, four died and one remains missing.
The Coast Guard strongly recommends that owners, operators, and masters of vessels with
controllable pitch propellers understand the design and operation of the system. This includes the
primary and emergency sources of power for both the control and main systems, the location and
procedures for using alternate control stations, and the locations of the emergency shutdowns. While
controllable pitch propeller systems are generally designed and constructed to fail in the “as is”
position, in hydraulic CPP systems, the actual blade pitch may change. In this case the vessel was
making considerable sternway. This was not a unique occurrence. The MS EXPLORER also
experienced this problem before it sank in November of 2007. Vessel operators, masters and crew
members must be prepared to respond accordingly.
In light of this incident, vessel owners, operators, masters and crew members should also be mindful
of the following safety issues:
1. Vessel masters and officers must maintain situational awareness at all times and understand the
effects of their actions and decisions on the safety of their crew, especially during emergency
situations involving flooding. This includes understanding what impact the vessel’s speed, heading,
heel, and trim will have on the crew as it abandons ship.
2. The master or individual in charge must evaluate the particular circumstances of each emergency
situation (weather, seas, experience of crew, condition of vessel, etc.) and adjust emergency
procedures accordingly to provide for the safety of his crew, vessel, and the environment.
3. All crew members should understand that immersion suits will affect their dexterity, limit mobility,
and may make it more difficult to launch survival craft, particularly when the survival craft are covered
with snow or ice. Crew members responsible for launching the survival craft should practice and be
able to do so with their immersion suits on. Lifesaving gear should be kept free of ice and snow
4. When abandoning ship, crewmembers should make every effort to enter directly into a liferaft or
lifeboat before entering the water. If crewmembers must enter the water, they should stay together
and attempt to enter a liferaft, climb onto floating debris, or use any other means available to get
themselves out of the water as soon as possible.
5. Emergency Drills should not be limited to routine procedures such as donning immersion suits.
Emergency drills should ensure all crew members, including bridge and engine room personnel,
understand and practice what to do in various emergency situations under actual conditions.