Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Transportation Safety Board of Canada releases findings in sinking of the Western Commander

The sinking of the Western Commander is the subject
of a recently released report from the Transportation Safety Board

(photo from TSB of Canada report)

The timeline of events that led to the sinking of the Western Commander near Triple Island earlier this year and the tragic loss of life of a crew member, makes for the bulk of the review of a report into the marine incident released by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada last week.

The vessel with its crew of three had been harvesting sea urchins off the West Coast of Graham Island in the days prior to the marine incident.

As it was returning to home port in Port Edward it began to take on water in the open water off of Triple Island on April 9th, the vessel's Mayday launching an extensive rescue effort in the waters west of Prince Rupert.

During the course of the April 9th emergency one crew member suffered a medical emergency as the situation unfolded and was transported to Prince Rupert, he was later pronounced dead at Prince Rupert hospital.

The journey of the Western Commander in the days leading up
to it's April 9th sinking off of Triple Island

(from TSB of Canada report)

The Transportation Safety Board report examines a range of items pertaining to the Western Commander, including the past history of the vessel, the background of the crew and the nature of the voyage which began on April 4th when the Western Commander set out from Port Edward for the west side of Graham Island.

Poor weather conditions, some equipment issues and the vessel making bottom contact in the area of Hippa Island all were made note of in the report. 

As well, observations related to the nature of the stacking of the load all were included as part of the review of events leading up to the sinking.

Part of the Transportation Board report provides some background into the frantic efforts for the crew of three during the incident.

Around 09004 on 09 April, the mate, who was on watch, noticed that the vessel was not fully returning upright when it was heeled over by the swell. Water was coming over the port railing and remaining on deck, and the vessel developed a port list. 

At some point, water had entered the port forward fish hold. In an attempt to reduce the list, the master started pumping the port forward fish hold and repositioned the boom as far as possible to starboard; however, the list continued to increase.

At 0945, the master made a Mayday call and requested assistance. Shortly afterward, Marine Communication and Traffic Services (MCTS) Prince Rupert broadcast a Mayday relay, and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue 64 (RCMSAR 64) vessel were deployed. 

The master and deckhand left the wheelhouse to locate and don their immersion suits and ready the life raft. The mate remained in the wheelhouse where he attempted to don his immersion suit but, at this time, he experienced a medical emergency. At 0955, the deckhand returned to the wheelhouse and found the mate incapacitated. The master immediately reported the medical emergency to MCTS. 

While waiting for assistance to arrive, the deckhand attempted to comfort the mate and monitored vital signs while the master attempted to complete a number of tasks alone. These included communicating with MCTS and the vessel owner, attending to the engine room and pumping duties, monitoring other areas of the vessel for water ingress, and maintaining command of the vessel.

The report notes four factors that could have potentially affected the vessel's safe passage among them:

A rudder shaft leak
Adverse weather conditions
Lack of a damage assessment following bottom contact
An uneven load distribution

The final observations from the report also highlights the status of the crew at the time of the sinking and the general safety observation that all vessel operators need to review their safe operating procedures.

Given a crew of 3 and the critical time lines required for transporting the sea urchins, it was difficult to maintain an adequate navigational watch and work-rest schedule, which could have affected the vessel’s safe passage.

Although the master recognized and took action to reduce some risks (e.g., the potential for weather related damage to the vessel), this occurrence highlights the need for routine use of safe operating procedures to help identify and address risk in all aspects of the operation.

The Transportation Board Report is noted as one that is a fact gathering investigation to advance transportation safety through the greater awareness of potential safety issues. The report further notes that it is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine if civil or criminal liability exists.

You can review the full report here.

For further background on the North Coast Fishing industry see our archive page here.

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