A dangerous work practice, lack of knowledge of how to recover a man in the water and no life jacket meant that 35 year-old Nikolai Nedoliz had little chance to survive when a wave swamped the stern of the fishing vessel Zenith i29 miles south east of Kilkeel,
Says the MAIB in its analysis: “Nikolai Nedoliz lost his life while carrying out an intrinsically unsafe task which had become custom and practice on board Zenith over time. The task of manually spreading the bridles and net wings apart during hauling was only carried out to speed up the following shooting process and did not need to be carried out at all”.
The practice of working from the top rail was clearly unsafe, and it was only a matter of time before it led to an accident. Falling from the rail into the sea or onto the deck was not the only danger this task presented; the act of manually pushing bridle wires and net wings apart as they wound on to the net drum could also have resulted in being dragged into the revolving drums.
Other crew members saw the wave approaching from the stern they shouted forcefully to Mr Nedoliz several times to get down from the top rail. However, Mr Nedoliz looked uncomprehendingly at his colleagues and remained in position. The wave swamped the vessel’s stern and carried Mr Nedoliz from the top rail and into the sea.
Mr Nedoliz demonstrated a severe lack of self-preservation by standing on the top rail and ignoring his colleagues’ warning shouts.
A life-ring was thrown into the sea. It landed about 2m from the man in the water, whose face was blue and was swimming weakly was unable to reach it. The vessel was manoeuvred alongside Mr Nedolitz and an attached was made to assist him using a prawn rake. The attempt failed and Mr. Nedolitz sank under the water and did not reappear.
Historically, very few skippers have complied with the regulations regarding onboard emergency training and, as a result, a very small number of fishermen have experienced the benefit of dedicated training and emergency drills on their own vessels. Zenith was no exception to this, and no training or drills for emergencies had been carried out on board the vessel.
MOB retrieval equipment was onboard that might have made the casualty’s recovery easier and quicker, and had been for eight years, but no-one aboard knew it was there. No lanyard was attached to the life ring thrown towards the casualty so he could not have been pulled back on board even if he had reached the ring.
The vessel was not equipped with a boat hook or any other means of holding an incapacitated casualty alongside nor was there plan for the recovery of either a conscious or an incapacitated casualty from the water.
Inevitably, Mr. Nedolitz was no wearing a lifejacket that might not only have kept him afloat the MAIB report: “long enough for rescue but may also have reduced the effects of cold shock on his heart.
Says MAIB: “Although the provision of lifejackets or other PFDs on board Zenith was mandatory, legislatively there was no requirement for the crew to wear one when working on deck. However, that did not prevent the owners from identifying such need under their duty of care, and insisting that PFDs were worn on board their vessels. Zenith’s owners did make inflatable lifejackets available, but made no obligation upon crew members to wear them”.
The MAIB has investigated numerous fatal accidents involving crew going overboard from fishing vessels. A common theme in many of these accidents has been the difficulty the crew experienced in recovering the casualty back on board. A few of the accidents bearing similarities to the one that occurred on Zenith include:
• 9 October 2010, a crewman was dragged overboard by fishing gear from Flying Cloud2. His colleagues had great difficulty in recovering him back on board although he was still alive when initially retrieved alongside the vessel.
• 11 November 2009, a crewman was dragged overboard from Osprey III3. His colleagues were unable to recover him on board despite him being alive alongside the vessel for several minutes.
• 6 November 2009, a crewman standing on a catch sorting tray almost level with the bulwark top rail, fell overboard from Korenbloem4. Two crewmen jumped overboard in rough sea conditions and, with the help of colleagues, recovered the casualty back on board. However, the casualty did not survive.
• 12 February 2009, a crewman was lost from the fishing vessel Maggie Ann5 when he went overboard while standing on a bulwark top rail during a routine hauling operation.
• 13 September 2007, a crewman was dragged overboard from Apollo6. The crew had great difficulty in recovering him back on board despite him being alive when initially taken alongside the vessel.
No form of PFD was worn by any of the casualties in these accidents.
During the period 2000-2011 (inclusive) 34 fatal MOB accidents occurred from UK registered fishing vessels during normal deck working operations7 where the casualties were not wearing any form of PFD.