Sinking of Atlantic Sapphire highlights recurring safety deficiencies in the commercial fishing industry
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 24 February 2021 — In its investigation report (M18A0454) released today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) determined that the excess weight of fish, ice, fuel, and freshwater aboard the Atlantic Sapphire compromised its stability and led to its sinking in 2018.
On 13 December 2018, at approximately 23:00 Atlantic Standard Time, the fishing vessel Atlantic Sapphire sank near Georges Bank, Nova Scotia. There were three crew members on board. The master broadcast a distress message and all crew members donned immersion suits before evacuating in a life raft as the vessel sank. A nearby fishing vessel responded to the distress message within minutes and rescued the crew members. Over 11 000 L of fuel on was on board when the vessel sank. There were no injuries and the vessel was determined to be a total loss.
Many of the safety issues identified in the investigation are known and recurrent in the fishing industry. The investigation found that the vessel was operating beyond its stability limits. When the Atlantic Sapphire sank, it had more fuel, water, fish and ice on board than the maximum load specified in its stability booklet. Operating a vessel within its stability limits is critical to the safety of the vessel, the crew, and the environment.
The investigation also identified a safety risk with the vessel’s crewing. Although the Atlantic Sapphire operation met the minimum requirements of its own safe manning document, when engaged in fishing operations it did not meet the work–rest schedule required by Transport Canada’s Marine Personnel Regulations. If work–rest schedules are not maintained, there is a risk that crew members will have unsustainable workloads or be fatigued, causing them to deviate from safe operating practices. Unlike workplaces in other industries in Nova Scotia, there are no provincial regulations for fishing vessel operations, nor a minimum crew complement.
Both Commercial fishing safety and fatigue management are key safety issues on the TSB’s Watchlist 2020. With regard to Commercial fishing safety, the TSB identifies the need for coordinated regulatory oversight between the federal and provincial levels of government; the promotion of existing guidelines on vessel stability; and for harvesters themselves to take ownership of their safety, specifically with respect to the use of stability guidelines, personal flotation devices, immersion suits, emergency signalling devices, and safe work practices.
Since 1992, the TSB has made 48 recommendations concerning commercial fishing safety and, in 2012, the TSB issued a report specific to the issue, the Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada, which recognized a complex relationship and interdependency between federal and provincial regulators, operators and fish harvesters themselves. Despite various initiatives that have sparked the development of a safety culture within the commercial fishing industry, the same safety deficiencies on board fishing vessels continue to put at risk the lives of thousands of Canadian fish harvesters, and affect their families and communities.
See the investigation page for more information.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
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