Auto-inflating lifejackets had been abandoned on the seiner Erika because water ondeck repeatedly caused them to inflate. As a result, when a seafarer was swept overboard between a sea rail and a gunwhale by a sliding seine net at night in cold seas, he stood little chance of survival.
A manually-operated lifejacket might have given him the edge.
Equally important, the incident highlights the need to properly assess the safety impact of changes made to vessels.
The Danish Marine Accident Investigation Board, which had recently released its investigation into the incidents says: “On 27 February 2011, the seiner Erika was fishing for capelin on the fishing grounds west of Iceland. At 21.00 LT, while securing the third throw of the seine for the day, one fisherman fell overboard. The remaining crew were able to recover the fisherman, but he was uconscious, and it was not possible to resuscitate him. A doctor was hoisted on board Erika from a rescue helicopter, and the doctor declared the fisherman dead”.
The report concludes:
•A recent change made to the sea rail made it possible to fall overboard between the gunwale
and the sea rail.
• The vessel’s movement in the sea was the cause of the seine starting to slide. The position of the fisherman working in the seine bin was normally considered safe, but the vessel’s movements made the position exposed to the sliding
The safety system
• Not all crewmembers had the mandatory training for commencing service on board a Greenland registered vessel. The deceased crewmember did not have any prior experience at sea and no maritime training before commencing his service on board Erika.
• The completion of a maritime safety course introducing basic knowledge about the service at sea could possibly have increased the deceased crewmember’s awareness about the possible risks during a potentially dangerous operation.
• The fisherman was conscious when falling in the water and during the initial phases in the water and would have been able to release a manually operated inflatable lifejacket immediately after having fallen into the water. the use of a suitable lifejacket would probably have saved the fisherman’s life.
• The rescue operation in very adverse conditions was conducted professionally and that a faster recovery could not have been expected. The Division for Investigation of Maritime Accidents notes the efforts made by the trawlboss by entering the water and thereby being instrumental in recovering his unconscious colleague. The crew used all available resources and did everything possible to revive their colleague.
Following the accident, the ship owner immediately installed a temporary net as a sea rail along the seine bin. This net was subsequently replaced by a permanent installation alongside the bin (see Figure 1). This sea rail is raised when shooting the seine and subsequently closed, thereby preventing crewmembers from falling overboard when working in the seine bin.
The report can be read here.