Britain’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch has praised the skipper of the trawler New Dawn for his attempts to rescue a Filipino seafarer, Reynaldo Benitez, swept overboard by a towing chain but told the vessel ownewr, Fuimus LLP, to review onboard equipment and rescue procedures.
During routine twin rig trawling shooting operations in international waters on the night of 13th August, says the MAIB’s preliminary report: “After attaching the port and starboard towing chains to the trawl wires, two crewmen worked at attaching the centre chain in an area of considerable danger, between the port and starboard chains. Once attached to the towing chains, the load on the trawl wires was transferred onto the chains. It was during this operation that one crewman was caught between the chains and the vessel’s bulwark rail, and was subsequently carried overboard.”
The vessel’s skipper, Chaz Bruce, jumped overboard in a rescue attempt but himself began to suffer the effects of cold water. It was only with great difficulty that the rest of the crew managed to bring the skipper back onboard. The fallen seafarer remains missing.
Following the incident, Fuimus LLP modified the procedure utilised when attaching towing chains to the trawl warps, so that the middle towing chain is attached before the port and starboard chains; Made the wearing of inflatable lifejackets compulsory for all crew during shooting and hauling operations and established procedures to ensure that all crew are in positions of safety before the load from trawl warps is transferred to the towing chains.
MAIB’s Deputy Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to the vessel’s owner to acknowledge the actions taken since the accident, and “the valiant attempt made by the skipper to rescue his colleague overboard. However, the Deputy Chief Inspector also recognised the personal danger the skipper placed himself in while attempting this rescue, and suggested the owner may wish to review the equipment available on board the vessel, and procedures which may be adopted, to better facilitate the recovery of a person from the sea”.
MAC would like to make a few comments that might be more generally applicable. It can be very difficult to recover someone, even conscious and in good conditions, from the water without training, practice or the right equipment. Review your ability to do it.
Lifejackets too often go by-the-by on small working vessels, New Dawn was nearly 15 metres. There are all sorts of rationalisations for not wearing one, in the same way that some folk ‘rationalise’ not wearing a seatbelt in a car. Despite bright colours and reflective tape its hard enough to find a lifejacket-wearing MOB at night even in moderate weather, without a lifejacket your chances of being found are slim to none.
Think of a lifejacket as a condom – to be worn, if possible, on every conceivable occasion.
Also, jobs sometimes get done the same way, day after day, year after year without anyone asking ‘is there a safer way to do this job?’. Eventually, the job becomes standard operating procedure – it’s done that way because it’s always been done that way. Making a job safer may be as simple as changing the order it which it is done. Is there a job that can be done safer on your vessel?