The incident

The 17-year-old deckhand, fell asleep soon after going on watch in the early hours of 11 January 2016. After he fell asleep, 'Jan' ran on autopilot and grounded on rocks near Howe Point in the Bay of Islands. The grounding woke the skipper and the other crew. The skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship due to the hull being breached and water ingress. Jan then capsized and was a total loss.

Probable cause

The helmsman had worked a full day, slept for only one hour and three-and-a-quarter hours, and was then woken to take his turn on watch. He had never before been on watch by himself at night.

Maritime NZ Northern Regional Manager, Neil Rowarth, said:

Crew fatigue is real and potentially disastrous for ships and their crew. With all three of Jan’s crew, including the helmsman, asleep it was a matter of luck that this was not a fatal accident.

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In 2011, following the grounding of another of its vessels, Den Bearg, Wild Fish Limited had installed watch alarms on its fleet. Watch alarms sound periodically to prevent a crew member on watch from falling asleep. However, Wild Fish Limited did not inform the crew of Jan that a watch alarm had been installed on the vessel and did not train the skipper or crew to use it.

In addition, there was no effective system for monitoring the sleep of crew members to make sure that overly fatigued crew did not go on watch. What is more, a crew member with limited watch-keeping experience was permitted to go on watch alone. His fatigue level increased the risk of him falling asleep on watch, and there was no mechanism or work procedure to wake him.

Maritime NZ prosecuted Wild Fish Limited under the Maritime Transport Act, which does not allow "dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products". The company pleaded guilty.

Fatigue in the fishing industry

Fatigue is one of the biggest factors causing injuries on fishing vessels. Some statistics about commercial fishing crew include:

  • 28% suffer an injury each year (Neilson survey of workers and employers, 2014);
  • 34% fell asleep at the wheel (Maritime NZ commercial fishing fatigue survey, 2018);
  • 42% made a bad decision (Maritime NZ commercial fishing fatigue survey, 2018);
  • 52% experienced mood swings (Maritime NZ commercial fishing fatigue survey, 2018);
  • 61% of crew report working when overtired (Neilson survey of workers and employers, 2014).