Sooner or later the chances were that someone was going to be killed aboard the 13.32 metre Irish registered FV Liberty. Given the long list of safety issues uncovered by Ireland’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, and the fact that an earlier incident involving an injury went unreported so the conditions that resulted in the death of a seafarer on 14 February 2013 went undetected, tragedy was inevitable and preventable.
In port at Dunmore East prior to the voyage, one of the trawl nets on the vessel, supplied by the owner, was swapped for a used net supplied by the skipper. The skipper’s net had been kept in storage and had not been used since October 2012. The net was apparently changed because
it was deemed to be more suitable for the intended fishing grounds where the vessel was going to fish.
There was no verification of the compatibility of the equipment placed on-board in Dunmore East with the existing lifting equipment carried out.
The skipper was an experienced fisherman but was relatively new to the vessel. The casualty had only joined the vessel a few hours before the incident and, as with the first crewmember, had very limited fishing experience. The first crewmember was tasked to operate the vessel’s lifting equipment but would not be considered sufficiently experienced to conduct such a task.
FV Liberty, with a Skipper and two crewmembers on-board, went single net bottom trawling.south of the Old Head of Kinsale. Hauling of the gear started at 17.50 hrs and during the hauling operations,with the skipper.
The hauling procedure consisted of, hauling the trawl warps onto the winch, unclipping the trawl doors and hanging them off on the gallows. The net would then be brought to the surface using combination rope bridles that would be attached to the net and the trawl wires on the winch and by winding the bridles onto the trawl winch. The bridles would then be unclipped from the net and the body of the net would then be wound on to the net drum.
A messenger rope would then be clipped onto one of the port side bridles; the messenger rope passing through sheaves and through the head block on the landing derrick. The aft end of the messenger rope would then be clipped on to the lazy deckie/bag rope/splitter rope attached to the trawl. The trawl cod end would then be hauled on-board on the port side of the vessel, using the trawl winch and cod end derrick.
During the critical phase of the hauling operation all three crewmembers were on the deck of the vessel. The Skipper was showing the casualty the procedure for hanging off the trawl doors, clipping on and off the bridles, and clipping on the messenger rope onto the lazy deckie. The first crewmember was operating the winch.
Once the lazy deckie was clipped on, the Skipper returned to the wheelhouse, brought the vessel into position to haul aboard the cod end, then returned to the deck and positioned himself on the port side of the vessel near the fish conveyor system. The casualty was standing towards the
aft end of the vessel so as to be out of the way of the suspended load.
Whilst the cod end was being lifted out of the water the messenger lifting rope suddenly went slack, with split links falling to the deck. The Skipper noted the casualty slump to the deck with blood pouring profusely from the left side of his head.
Realising that the crewmember was seriously injured, the Skipper decided not to move him, but make him as comfortable as possible and request helicopter assistance.
The Skipper contacted the Coast Guard at Marine Rescue Sub Centre, Valentia by VHF Radio and requested helicopter assistance.
To manoeuvre the “FV Liberty” in preparation for the helicopter evacuation of the casualty, the Skipper cut away the cod end of the net, which was lying alongside the port side of the vessel. The lazy deckie rope that failed was attached to the cod end of the net, which was cut away and jettisoned.
Once the helicopter arrived on the scene the Skipper had to jettison fish boxes stored on the forecastle of the vessel to make a landing place for the helicopter Winchman. However, the casualty died before he could be evacuated.
MCIB investigators discovered that within the three months before the fatal incident a crewmember had been injured when lifting equipment failed. The incident was not reported to the authorities as required by the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000. Had it been reported the conditions that led to the fatality may have come to light.
FV Liberty had undergone a Code of Compliance Inspection on the 9th November 2011 and a Flag State Inspection on the 10th December 2012.
The Flag State Inspection found deficiencies with the vessel’s fire and safety equipment.
The MCIB inspection of the vessel following the incident highlighted deficiencies with radio equipment, first aid equipment, crew certification and safety equipment.
Because some equipment had been jettisoned to make way for helicopter operations there is uncertainty regarding what exactly happened. What is known is that the split links connecting the lazy deckie and messenger ropes were not a matched pair and were susceptible to becoming jammed when passing over blocks.
Main items in the vessel’s lifting equipment, namely winch, sheaves, split links, blocks and derrick were in poor condition.
The split links fell as a result of a failure of the attachment of the lazy deckie rope to the unidentified split link. The rope was eye spliced to the link and for the failure to have occurred, the eye splice must have pulled out or the rope broke.
If the rope or split links got jammed in the derrick block, the winch could have put forces on the rope or splices that they were unable to withstand. Alternatively, the lazy deckie rope could have been in a poor condition, resulting in its failure.
If the elements in the vessel’s lifting equipment had been examined as required
by Section 61 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Applications)
Regulations 2007, the chances of an accident occurring would have been
No hard hats were provided as required by Section 62 of the Safety, Health and
Welfare at Work (General Applications) Regulations 2007 and Fishing Vessel Code
of Practice Chapter 6. If hard hats had been provided to the crew, it could have reduced the severity of injury to the casualty.
Whilst there was a Risk Assessment Document provided by the Owner on the vessel it appears to have been a paper exercise. The Skipper was unaware of its existence and no scrutiny of its contents was carried out. The risks associated with the vessel’s lifting equipment was not made known to the crewmembers. No proper assessment of the risks involved or actions to migrate risks was carried out.
None of the crewmembers on-board the vessel at the time of the incident had carried out the mandatory safety training as required by S.I. No. 587/2001 – Fishing Vessel (Basic Safety Training) Regulations, 2001. If the crew had undergone the basic safety training they would have been more aware of the procedures to have been adopted in the emergency.
Whilst there was a safety statement on-board the vessel the Skipper and crew were unaware of it and were not familiar with its contents.
The vessel did not comply with the requirements of the Fishing Vessel Code of Practice. The deficiencies in place on-board FV Liberty during the MCIB investigation showed that risk assessment was not completed, annual inspection was not carried out for lifting equipment, and personnel had not completed the required training.
Had the earlier incident been reported a seafarer might still be alive today. If you want to report an incident in confidence then check out the CHIRP/NI MARS scheme. You may save a life.