AMSA provides lessons learned from an incident where crewmember overboard compounded by lack of life jacket wear risk assessment.
n open-stern fishing trawler was conducting offshore netting operations in open waters. The master was transiting at slow speed to a new fishing area when the person overboard alarm was raised. The master made appropriate distress calls and conducted a grid search, but attempts to locate the crew member who had fallen overboard were unsuccessful.
An investigation identified that the vessel’s safety management system did not have appropriate risk assessments or procedures for crew working on the aft deck, noting it was an open-stern vessel. Lifejacket wear requirements for crew were unclear.
The trawler left its home port for a weeklong fishing operation. The transit to the fishing grounds took 18 hours and at around 15:00 on day 2 the vessel shot their first net. At around 19:50, the master instructed the crew to get ready to shoot the nets again and whilst heading to a new area at slow speed on autopilot, the person overboard alarm was raised. The master stopped the vessel immediately and could see a crew member in the water 30 metres astern to starboard.
The master reversed the vessel to within about 6 metres of the person overboard. A crewmember threw a life ring with 3 unsuccessful attempts, and as the person overboard was hit by a wave the crew lost sight of them. The master hit the distress button on the VHF radio and made a PAN call advising they had a person overboard and giving their position.
The master also activated the person overboard button on their GPS and commenced a grid search as instructed by a maritime radio operator. At around 01:00 the next morning, water police instructed the master to cease their search and proceed back to port to await further instructions, indicating the timeframe for survival had expired.
The investigation identified the following contributory factors:
- The vessel’s safety management system did not include a risk assessment relating to the operation of an open-stern trawler.
- There were no procedures for shooting and hauling nets nor for working on the aft deck of an open-stern trawler.
- The safety management system contained conflicting requirements for the wearing of lifejackets on the vessel. If the person overboard had been wearing a lifejacket, their chances of survival would have been greatly increased.
- The vessel was not fitted with any means of protection such as a chain or gate across the stern to ensure crew safety as is required under USL Code Section 5E.10.7.
Owners have a duty to implement and maintain a safety management system that ensures the safe operation of vessels and the safety of the crew.
The owner of the vessel did not have risk assessments or operating procedures in place for shooting and hauling nets or for working on the aft deck of an open-stern trawler and provided unclear requirements on when lifejackets were to be worn on the open deck.
An open-stern trawler is also required to have a means of protection for fitting a guard across the stern under the USL Code.