By Chris Philips, Managing Editor
On October 21, 2008, the F/V Katmai was making way toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska to offload approximately 120,000 lbs (53.6 LT) of Pacific Cod, Most of the crew was asleep, and the boat was transiting the Amchitka Pass in the Aleutian Islands. It was raining with 25 to 35 foot seas and 55-90 knot winds. According to the official US Coast Guard report, the vessel had a port heel caused by the wind and seas.
At midnight the Katmai lost steering. Dispatched to investigate, the engineer noted that the watertight door to the lazarette, which contained the steering gear, was open and that the space was flooded. The Engineer started the bilge system to dewater the lazarette. The Captain sent a second email to the F/V BLUE BALLARD stating that the lazarette was flooded. The engineer started the bilge pump and was initially able to report to the Captain that the water level in the lazarette was going down. When the boat took a starboard list, a deckhand reported that the engine room was flooded 1 to 2 feet above the deck plates. The Captain ordered the crew don immersion suits and to prepare the liferafts for abandoning ship. The flooding progressed and the vessel continued listing to starboard and down by the stern. The Captain ordered the crew to abandon ship and activated the EPIRB.
Seven crewmembers abandoned the F/V Katmai to a liferaft that was located off the starboard bow and three of the crew abandoned the boat from the fishing deck on the starboard side where the second life raft was deployed. The Engineer was last seen entering the engine room and is believed to have gone down with the vessel. The F/V Katmai sank approximately 45 minutes after having lost steering. Of the 11 crew onboard, 4 were ultimately rescued, 5 deceased members were recovered, and 2 remain missing and are presumed dead.
According to the Coast Guard, The Katmai sank as a result of the amount of cargo onboard, exposure to heavy winds and high seas, and a failure to maintain watertight boundaries.
The USCG Marine Board of Investigation report, released late last month, reads like a textbook on what NOT to do to survive at sea. Some of the Coast Guard’s conclusions:
The flooding of the lazarette, due to an unsecured door, caused the failure of the electric motors for the steering system, resulting in a loss of steering. The Katmai had no emergency steering system.
Accurate maintenance and repair records of the vessel were not kept by the owners or operations manager, preventing an evaluation of the overall condition of the vessel.
A crack in a weld seam on the starboard side of the processing space was not repaired properly (it was filled with silicone caulk) and the aft watertight door to the processing space was open prior to the vessel sinking.
The boat was carrying almost twice the amount of cargo reviewed in the loading conditions provided in the most current stability report. The additional cargo, coupled with the flooding of the engine room, decreased the freeboard and aft trim of the vessel and increased the vessel’s potential to take on water.
The owners of the Katmai failed to complete a new stability review of the vessel following the vessel’s conversion to fishing using a long line pot system in 1998. The older stability report may have led the Captain to assume that the cargo hold could be completely filled.
The vessel owners and Captain did not ensure that all drills required by 46 CFR 28.270 were conducted by crew who were trained in the proper procedures for conducting drills. The failure to conduct regular abandon ship or flooding drills may have reduced the crew’s ability to effectively respond to these emergency situations at the time of the casualty.
The crew suffered from chronic fatigue due to a lack of adequate sleep/rest as a result of extended fishing operations, which may have decreased their survivability following the casualty. Fatigue, work-related stress and inadequate resource management negatively affected the Captain’s decision-making process. His decision to proceed to Dutch Harbor, instead of waiting for the incoming storm to pass, contributed directly to the sinking of the vessel by unnecessarily exposing the vessel to heavy winds and high seas.
Immersion suits were not assigned or matched to specific crew, increasing the potential for crew to don improperly sized suits in an emergency. At least one crewmember donned an immersion suit that was too large for his body, decreasing potential for survivability.
The 28-year-old, 15-person liferaft in which the four survivors were discovered did not afford the crew protection from the elements and did not have adequate ballast bags to prevent the capsizing of the liferaft. The compressed gas cylinder was not properly connected to the inflation hose of the 10-person liferaft, which did not properly inflate.
The report notes that current Coast Guard regulations don’t require the Coast Guard or a recognized 3rd party to witness the servicing of Coast Guard approved liferafts increasing the potential for liferafts to be improperly serviced. The adoption of quality assurance programs for Coast Guard approved liferaft servicing facilities would substantially decrease the potential for liferafts to be serviced improperly.
Implementing a mandatory inspection program in lieu of the voluntary CFVE program for currently uninspected fishing vessels would also significantly improve fishing vessel safety and decrease fishing vessel casualties.
Existing regulations for uninspected fishing vessels similar to the F/V Katmai focus primarily on safety and do not contain hull, machinery, stability, or maintenance requirements. The report also notes that the current Coast Guard and NMFS definitions of fish processing are confusing, and permit vessels to be categorized differently by the Coast Guard and NMFS. Neither definition of processing vessels takes into account additional crew employed on fishing vessels to perform processing operations.
Finally, the lack of requirements to install indicators or alarms on watertight doors prevented effective management of watertight doors on the Katmai, and the installation of a portable emergency dewatering pump would have increased the capacity to dewater the vessel.
The Katmai report, issued almost 20 months after the incident, is a clear call for better safety procedures among all commercial fishermen. The recent sinking of the Northern Belle last month under similar circumstances (see cover story, this issue) is a clear reminder of the importance fishing vessel safety. Let’s not wait another 20 months for this latest lesson to take hold.