Sinking: Captain Decided Not to Return to Port Despite Forecast
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about the November, 2018, flooding and sinking of the fishing vessel Aaron & Melissa II approximately 70 miles southeast of Portland, Maine, while transiting to fishing grounds during a storm with gale-force winds.
The Aaron & Melissa II sank about 0800 local time on November 14, 2018. All four crewmembers abandoned ship and entered an inflatable liferaft when attempts to dewater the vessel proved unsuccessful; they were later rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. Petty Officer Michael Kelly, a rescue swimmer with the U.S. Coast Guard, received the 2019 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea during this year's IMO Awards ceremony for his efforts.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the flooding and sinking was the captain’s decision not to return directly to port with forecasted gale-force conditions, combined with the clogged bilge system, which prevented the crew from dewatering the flooded lazarette.
With the vessel listing to starboard and no ability to dewater the flooded lazarette, fish hold and lobster tanks, the three crewmembers donned their survival suits and went to the port bow where they awaited the order to abandon ship. While the crew was gathered on the bow, the vessel’s liferaft broke free from its rack due to boarding seas and the severe list and fell into the water.
After determining the vessel could not be saved, the captain joined the crew on the bow. The engineer then inflated the liferaft. All four crewmembers jumped into the water and boarded the raft, abandoning the vessel just as it began to sink beneath the waves, stern first. The liferaft painter became entangled on the sinking vessel’s mast. Fearing they would be trapped inside the raft and pulled down with the vessel, the crew left the raft and entered the sea.
The Aaron & Melissa II sank in about 480 feet of water, pulling the raft under water. When the raft surfaced, all crewmembers were able to re-enter it. The weather conditions at the time reportedly involved wind speeds of 30 knots with wave heights of 20 feet.
The loss of the vessel was estimated at $650,000.
The report is available here.