An investigation into the sinking of a boat which killed three fishermen has found the vessel was overloaded with whelks and fishing gear.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its report into the foundering of the Nicola Faith near the coast of Colwyn Bay. Its crew Carl McGrath, 34, Ross Ballantine, 39, and Alan Minard, 20, were on board when the boat vanished on January 27 last year. Their bodies were found in March 2021 off the coast of the Wirral.
The report has found that the whelk potter vessel had been “extensively modified” and this had “significantly reduced its margin of positive stability” before it sank just under two miles north of Rhos-on-Sea. The MAIB wrote: “On the day of the accident the Nicola Faith had been loaded with catch and retrieved strings of pots to the point of instability, which resulted in the capsize and subsequently sinking of the vessel.”
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The investigation found that Nicola Faith was operated in an “unsafe manner”, it had not been fitted with a mandatory emergency beacon, and it was not reported as overdue until the following day. The crew were not equipped with personal locator beacons. Although personal flotation devices were on board, the crew did not “routinely” wear them.
The MAIB added: “Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyors had noted some of the modifications. However, the guidance concerning modifications that would have triggered a stability assessment was not sufficiently clear.”
Its report recommended that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency revise the wording in its code of practice from a “catch limit” to a “load limit”. The MAIB also said the agency should “review and enhance” guidance to surveyors on what level of modification should trigger further investigations into a vessel’s stability.
And the report also said the boat’s owner, the Big Ship Ltd, should “ensure that a written agreement is in place to identify the organisation or person with responsibility for the operation of any vessels that it may own”.
The chief inspector Andrew Moll said: “Yesterday we published our report into the loss of Joanna C [near Newhaven], and today are publishing the report into the loss of Nicola Faith. Both were small fishing vessels that capsized while working fishing gear and together, tragically, they account for the loss of five lives. There are important lessons about stability from these accidents that must be understood and acted upon by all small fishing boat operators.”
He added: “Nicola Faith had been modified, and the modification had not been approved. Nonetheless, the vessel could have been operated safely with care. On the day of the accident, the crew were relocating their pots to a new area and were carrying a full day’s catch as well. The combined weight of the catch and fishing gear piled on deck was far more than the boat was designed to carry; it capsized, and all three crew were lost in that accident. Fishermen will always be tempted to land a big catch but moving fishing gear at the same time can be overwhelming.
“As fuel prices soar, the temptation to carry more and do fewer trips makes economic sense, but where stability is concerned the results can be catastrophic. Five families’ lives have been shattered by these two accidents, both of which were entirely avoidable. To all fishing vessel crews I have this simple message: safety begins with good stability; know your boat’s limitations and operate within them.” You can read more north Wales stories here.
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