Crabber Léim an Bhradán, with two crew aboard, had every thing required for emergency communications: flares, EPIRB, VHF as well as a liferaft but none of it worked when she capsized at about 1400 on the morning of Saturday 30th October 2010. The incident serves as a cautionary tale whatever size vessel you’re on.
Her inflatable liferaft sat unsecured in a cradle atop the wheelhouse. It was not equipped with a hydrostatic release or weak-link that would result in the liferaft opening automatically and the painter was not attached to the vessel. The two crew then found themselves faced with trying to open the canister while it floated free.
One of the two men was able to cut the canister straps with a key.
Meanwhile the vessel’s EPIRB went down with the boat. It was in the wheelhouse, not in an external float-free holder, so could not float to the surface and activate.
The men finally boarded the SOLAS equipment pack in the liferaft and fired off two red parachute flares but there were no other vessels around to see them. An hour later they saw a Coast Guard helicopter and fired an orange smoke flare which was not seen by the helicopter, which was on a training flight.
A portable VHF was on the vessel but was not carried by either man as they worked on deck, depriving them of a possibly critical item of communications equipment when it was most needed.
No arrangements had been made to check in with those onshore at regular intervals so the alarm was not raised until 2300, about nine hours after the sinking.
Says the Marine Casualty Investigation Board: “On the morning of Saturday 30th October 2010, the 33m crabber Léim an Bhradán put to sea from Porturlin, Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland, on a routine fishing trip to lift, empty and reset crab and lobster pots approximately 12 to 15 miles north of Porturlin. A canister-type 4 man liferaft was stored in a cradle on top of the wheelhouse. The vessel was manned by Skipper, John O’Donnell and crew, Nathan Flannery, both young men but with many years of fishing experience between them. Having successfully hauled and re-shot one tow of pots, a second tow, in the process of being hauled, was partially aboard being emptied and re-baited prior to shooting. The vessel was lying beam on to the breeze and large swell and listing slightly to starboard due to the pots being hauled over that side when a large wave broke over the starboard quarter and flooded the working deck. This caused the vessel to list further to starboard allowing more water over the side and causing the stacked pots and boxes to shift. The vessel continued to list further, throwing both men into the water before capsizing and sinking rapidly.
The liferaft canister, which was not secured to the vessel, floated to the surface. Messrs. O’Donnell and Flannery managed to inflate the raft although to do so they found it necessary to cut the canister securing straps with a key. Both men mangaed to climb aboard.
Several hours later, the alarm was raised ashore when the “Léim an Bhradán” had not returned to port. A rescue helicopter and lifeboat were tasked to the scene and the liferaft was located. Messrs. O’Donnell and Flannery were picked up and brought ashore by the lifeboat. There were no injuries or fatalities associated with this incident.
“…Had the liferaft been secured to the top of the wheelhouse with an approved hydrostatic release unit fitted with a weak link tether for the painter, it would have floated to the surface and automatically inflated allowing Messrs. O’Donnell and Flannery to board it immediately.
“If the EPIRB had been mounted in a ‘float free’ bracket on the outside of the wheelhouse, it too would have floated to the surface and automatically activated when the vessel sank, thus alerting the Coast Guard to the incident and allowing them to pinpoint the location of the vessel immediately.
“The Léim an Bhradán was equipped with 2 fixed VHF sets in the wheelhouse – one as backup in case of failure of the first one – and a handheld VHF set for use around the boat, away from the wheelhouse. This was normally kept in its charging cradle in the wheelhouse when not in use, as was the case during this incident. Had either Mr. O’Donnell or Mr. Flannery kept this about their person whilst working on deck, they would have been in a position to call for help and to communicate with other vessels in the vicinity and with the rescue services”.