Economic and social factors continue to take preference over safety considerations in fishing vessels, says Britain’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch in it’s report into the collision between two trawlers. It it latest of a series of accident in which wheelhouses have been left unattended.
At 1840 on 12 January 2011, the 16.84m prawn trawler Silver Chord collided with the 14.99m prawn trawler Sapphire II ). At the time of the collision, Sapphire II was stopped in the water while her skipper, who was operating single-handed, recovered the vessel’s fishing gear. Silver Chord was making 5.5 knots as she proceeded towards Stornoway after a day’s fishing.
Sapphire II’s hull was penetrated and the fish hold quickly started to flood. Her skipper reported the accident to the coastguard, and transferred to Silver Chord before Sapphire II sank at about 1850.
Silver Chord was also damaged, but was able to return to Stornoway under her own power. There were no injuries.
The investigation identified a number of factors which contributed to the collision. These included:
• Neither skipper was aware of the proximity of the other vessel despite both vessels displaying navigation lights and deck floodlights, and both vessels being equipped with working radar displays.
• Silver Chord’s wheelhouse was left unattended for substantial periods of time before the accident while her skipper and crew worked in a fully enclosed shelter.
• The visibility ahead from Silver Chord’s wheelhouse was impaired by the vessel’s shelter and deck fittings.
• Sapphire II’s skipper had been focused on recovering the fishing gear. His view from the aft working deck was obstructed by the vessel’s accommodation and wheelhouse, which prevented him from maintaining a proper and effective lookout. The single-handed operation of Sapphire II was therefore inherently unsafe.
This is one of many accidents involving fishing vessels in which leaving the wheelhouse unattended has been a significant contributory factor. Despite Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and industry initiatives, this behaviour persists among many fishermen as economic and social factors continue to take preference over safety considerations. As leaving a wheelhouse unattended is unavoidable during single-handed operations, the suitability of vessels to be operated in this way must be carefully assessed.
Recommendations have been made to the MCA aimed at ensuring that all vessels are sufficiently manned to ensure their safe operation, and that the current requirements for the visibility from fishing vessels’ wheelhouses are met. Recommendations have also been made to the owner/skippers of Silver Chord and Sapphire II which are intended to improve the safe operation of their vessels in the future.