Poor Stability Monitoring Led to Fishing Fatalities

The Caledonian in loaded condition; white line indicates her deck level (credit TSB / Eric Sorenson)

By The Maritime Executive 2016-12-16 20:52:46

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has issued its final report on the capsizing of the fishing vessel Caledonian in September of last year, which resulted in the deaths of three fishermen. Among its other conclusions, the TSB found that Canada's vessel stability requirements for large fishing vessels have limitations – in particular, the composition of the stability booklet and the monitoring of changes in weight.

Investigators found that the vessel's lightship displacement had grown by nearly 20 percent since her construction due to repairs, accumulation of stores and equipment, tank sedimentation, rust, coating buildup and other factors. Her loaded displacement had increased to the point where it would exceed the stability book standard by nine percent, and TSB calculated that her waterline in fully loaded condition would be level with the main deck – a fact confirmed by an earlier photo (above).

The master may not have noticed the change over time for a number of reasons. First, there was no regulatory requirement to track modifications to fishing vessels until 2008, so additions made early on may not have been apparent to later crews. Second, her freeing ports had been covered over to limit the amount of water shipped onto her decks – making it harder to tell that her freeboard in loaded condition had fallen over time. 

In addition, the master may not have even known the Caledonian's minimum safe freeboard: the ship did not have a defined maximum draft in her stability booklet. "Although the stability booklet provided calculated vessel drafts for each of the load conditions examined, these had not been compiled to determine a maximum safe operating draft (or minimum freeboard) for the vessel," TSB found. 

In its conclusion, the board recommended that "all commercial fishing vessels, large and small, have their stability assessed; and that this stability information be kept up to date and be presented in a way that is clear and useful for the crew."

The TSB also warned that fatalities are too common in the Canadian fishing fleet, with 28 deaths over the past decade, and that most could have been prevented if crewmembers had been wearing lifejackets – including the deaths of three crewmembers of the Caledonian

"It's no longer acceptable to think of fishing as just a dangerous job and that nothing can be done about it. There are steps that we can take; there are steps that we must take," said Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB.