Accidents are by definition unexpected and unintentional, but a U.S. Coast Guard report on the f/v Scandies Rose disaster, in which just two of seven crew members on board survived, points to a number of missed efforts that could have presumably saved both the vessel and all those onboard.
Authors of the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation report concluded that the loss of the commercial fishing vessel, which sank south of Sutwik Island, Alaska, on New Year’s Eve of 2019, and the deaths of five of seven crew was both tragic and preventable.
The Coast Guard’s 233-page report on the 130-foot crab fishing vessel’s sinking was released Jan. 10.
A major factor in this incident was the captain’s judgment, the Coast Guard said. Specifically, the captain departed on the voyage and later failed to seek shelter along his planned route despite a heavy weather forecast, vessel icing and reports from other fishing vessel captains who sought shelter from the weather.
In conversation with the captain of the fishing vessel AMATULI, the captain of the Scandies Rose reported formation of ice on his vessel the morning of the accident but did not take action to reduce icing formation or take early and timely advantage of available safe and protected anchorages along his intended voyage track, the report said.
The numerous safety recommendations included in the report ranged from establishment of a working group to address specific issues outlined as probable contributors to the cause of the tragedy, including best practices to address the high degree of risk associated with fishing vessel operations and how the acceptance of risk is prevalent and accepted in the fishing industry.
The Marine Board specifically recommended the committee focus on topics including icing, heavy weather avoidance in voyage planning, and formalizing the navigation watch duties via onboard familiarization and written standard orders to ensure the safety of vessels during their transit and during fishing operations.
The recommendations call for the Commandant of the Coast Guard to clarify that a vessel’s stability instructions to the master should indicate that when freezing spray forecasts or conditions exist, the vessel may experience icing conditions that dangerously compromise the vessel’s stability and that captains consider delaying departure from port, or if already underway, seek protected waters or take immediate action to reduce or mitigate ice accumulations.
On a continuing education level, the recommendations include collaborating with marine training institutions like the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (NPFVOA) and Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA), both of which provide numerous vessel safety programs, to amend their curriculums as appropriate for operating areas in icing conditions.
“The effort should increase the focus on the dangers of icing and other potential sources for loss of stability and provide for recommended best practices to reduce icing or causes of loss of stability,” the report states. “This could include protective measures such as dropping gear overboard when in dangerous stability conditions not getting underway in the face of severe weather or seeking shelter if already underway.”
As a further safety precaution on icing issues, there’s a recommendation to determine the real-life icing effects on commercial fishing vessels, specifically the asymmetrical nature of accumulation on the vessel and pots, to improve the margin of safety for vessels operating in such harsh environments.
The report calls for the Commandant of the Coast guard to develop regulations requiring commercial fishing captains of documented vessels operating beyond the boundary line attend and complete an accepted stability training course, and hold a certificate issued under that program. Vessel owners and captains would also have to abide by regulations to be implemented reflecting basic principles of the Coast Guard’s Crew Endurance Management System or similar practices that can be used to identify and control crew fatigue risk factors.
Recommendations call for production and dissemination of a Marine Safety Information Bulletin or Safety Alert discussing a best marine practice to ensure a means of access to all parts of a fishing vessel while the vessel is underway in inclement conditions.
In doing so, fishermen would have a safer way to maintain a clearer picture of the materiel and stability condition of their vessel in icing conditions and can take steps to mitigate negative forces before the loss of stability becomes catastrophic, the report states.
Among the recommendations concerning electronics is that the Coast Guard promote the use of a properly installed and configured Digital Selective Calling feature on marine VHF radios throughout the maritime regions of the U.S. aboard all vessels, as this would enhance the saving of life and property and the potential timeliness of rescue in marine emergencies.
“This safety initiative to promote the widespread use of VHF marine radios DSC features should be added to the scope of duties, checklists and job aids used by Coast Guard personnel and Coast Guard Auxiliarists conducting marine safety related outreach to the community, including the recreational boating community,” the report states in part.
The report also warns of the dangerous and debilitating effect of fatigue at sea on decision-making.
“One of the survivors of the Scandies Rose’s work-rest history was analyzed and he was found to be impaired by fatigue to the level of legal intoxication by alcohol,” the report states.
“Despite the uncertainty of fatigue’s impact on this accident, research has shown that fatigue leads to errors in decision making and decreased motor skills,” the report noted.
The report also recommended efforts to improve dissemination of the message to the maritime community to address the misalignment between state and federal drug laws.
“It is critical to reinforce the message that the use of dangerous drugs positive drug tests, or actual impairment may lead to enforcement actions at the state or federal level up to including criminal prosecution,” the report advised.
The lengthy report cites a number of steps not taken by the captain and crew, vessel stability issues, the number of crab pots on board, excessive ice on the vessel, and more.
The report made a number of detailed recommendations on addressing the fatalities from the Scandies Rose, plus the loss of lives on two other commercial fishing vessels, the Destination and Lady of Grace, to avoid further at-sea tragedies.
The report called for cooperative efforts with the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Marine Exchange of Alaska in conjunction with other applicable governmental or non-governmental organizations, including the state of Alaska and the Federal Communications Commission, plus stakeholders and partnerships, to establish a more extensive network of reliable weather stations in coastal regions.
Observations of the ill-fated Scandies Rose noted by the Coast Guard included five specific items:
Failure to take timely action to prevent excessive ice accumulation despite forecasted and anticipated heavy freezing spray conditions.
The vessel’s unsafe stability conditions due to the inaccurate stability instructions provided by the naval architect who performed the last stability assessment and created the vessel’s stability instructions in 2019.
Carrying nearly the maximum number of crab pots permitted in the 2019 stability instructions despite commencing a voyage where gale force weather and heavy freezing spray were forecast.
Excessive ice weight accumulations from freezing spray.
A lack of effective federal stability regulations that don’t realistically account for dangerous effects of icing and asymmetrical nature of icing that can endanger commercial fishing vessels operating in regions similar to this accident environment.
Back in the late 1990s the Coast Guard, concerned over the numerous incident involving crab boats leaving Dutch Harbor on the notoriously dangerous Bering Sea crab fisheries, instituted a requirement that the crab boats had to be inspected by the Coast Guard before leaving the port.
That measure was later credited as an important contributor to the improved safety record of the fishery.