A skipper who elected to take the entire watch as his vessel returned to port because he thought his crew were tired, grounded the vessel after he fell asleep in the warm, unventilated wheelhouse and the watch alarm failed to wake him.
The incident, detailed in a report from the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch, MAIB, has led to the publication of a flyer for the fishing industry
At 1725 on 20 February 2010, the Jersey-registered crabber Kerloch (J235) was returning to port when she ran aground on Crow Rock, off the Pembrokeshire coast. The vessel began to sink rapidly and all four crew donned their lifejackets, then deployed and got into the liferaft. The crew were recovered from their liferaft by another fishing vessel and subsequently transferred to the Angle ALB and then ashore. There were no injuries and no pollution.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight when the skipper fell asleep in his chair. A watch alarm was reported to be functional in the wheelhouse, but was ineffective. During the week before the accident, the crew had been working up to 18 hour shifts while fishing the grounds off Lundy Island. Although each crew member normally took a navigational watch as the vessel steamed back to port, the skipper elected to take the entire watch; he thought the deckhands seemed tired, and he felt fresh.
The safety legislation for Jersey-registered fishing vessels lags behind the equivalent EU and UK regulations, with key modern safety concepts such as risk assessments and safety awareness training currently not required.
As a consequence of this accident, various actions have been taken, including:
• The States of Jersey intends to continue the ongoing update of its legislation for Jersey-registered fishing vessels to align the safety and training requirements with those for UK fishing vessels.
• The UK operators of Kerloch now ensure that crew on vessels they manage hold the required statutory certification.
• Cosalt International Ltd. has reinforced its reminder process for the servicing of hire liferafts, and will ensure that all customers sign an agreement confirming their statutory obligations.
• The MAIB has published a safety flyer for circulation to the fishing industry, which details the lessons learned from the accident.
A recommendation has been made to the States of Jersey to expedite the current update of the regulatory framework applicable to Jersey-registered fishing vessels. Recommendations have also been made to the manager and operators of Kerloch, which promote adherence to best practice guidance available in the UK.
Among the lessons leaned for seafarers:
Although this accident resulted in the vessel’s loss, it is fortunate that the crew were uninjured. With a different set of circumstances, the outcome could have been far worse. This accident highlights a number of safety lessons:
1. The crabbing industry, like many sectors, has been hard hit by rising costs and lower market prices, which has led to a culture of long working hours and limited rest. Such pressures are real, but owners, managers and skippers still need to consider all possible opportunities for ensuring crew are properly rested and fit to work, whether this is through compensatory rest, or revised manning.
2. It is not difficult to envisage the skipper falling asleep after a hard week’s work, while sitting in the comfort of his chair in the warm, stuffy wheelhouse in the late afternoon sunshine. It is important to ensure there are stimuli present to assist watchkeepers in staying alert, and not to remain seated for extended periods.
3. An effective bridge watch alarm is one such way of providing a stimulus. The alarm on Kerloch was however clearly ineffective; a good alarm should require the watchkeeper to move from his chair to deactivate it, and when not cancelled on the bridge, should alert other crew members in the vessel.
4. Best practice was evident on board the vessel, with the stowage of the lifejackets in a dedicated container on deck adjacent to the liferafts. This allowed the crew to quickly don their lifejackets in the face of the developing crisis without having to waste valuable time searching for and retrieving them.
5. The abandonment, although successful, could have been improved in a number of areas. The vessel’s DSC radio alert was not activated, and neither a hand-held VHF radio nor the EPIRB were removed and taken to the liferaft. The latter would have provided positional data to emergency services. It was fortunate that the mobile phone used to make the 999 call had network coverage and battery power. During the abandonment, the liferaft painter was cut and held onto by one of the crew before they boarded; if this had been inadvertently released, the raft could have drifted away without them. Training and regular drills are both key to ensuring emergency preparedness.
6. The reasons for the failure of the EPIRB to transmit immediately after the sinking are not known, as the unit could not be recovered. Although fitted in a proprietary stowage, apparently clear of obstructions, the fact that the EPIRB appears not to have floated clear of the vessel when she sank emphasises the importance of considering carefully its installation position.