An investigation into a fire and sinking of a fishing vessel in the Irish Sea last year has found that its fire detection system failed to work, even though it had been surveyed only ten months beforehand writes Lorna Siggins
Three crew on board the MFV Suzanne II had a fortunate escape, as their emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) activated, and gave their latitude and longitude.
The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inquiry records that the three crew had set out from Arklow, Co Wicklow, in the early hours of May 2nd last year, and were working about 30 nautical miles east of the fishing port.
Weather conditions were good, and the three had taken a break when one of the crew noticed smoke coming from the engine room.
The 17-metre French-built timber vessel with aluminium shelter deck was built as a trawler but fitted with a pot hauler in 2018. The vessel had been surveyed and certified for fishing in July 2018.
The inquiry states that the skipper went to investigate the source of the smoke and “soon realised that there was a serious fire in the engine room”.
“He made an attempt to fight the fire but the level of smoke hampered any effort. The smoke and fire very quickly engulfed the vessel’s accommodation and wheelhouse,” it states.
“ The crew retrieved the vessel’s EPIRB and abandoned ship to an inflatable life raft,” it states.
Activation of the EPIRB alerted the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Dublin at 14.21 hours, as the skipper had tried unsuccessfully to seek assistance via VHF radio.
The liferaft was spotted by an angling boat named the Highlander en route from Wales to Ireland, and two of the fishing crew were transferred to the RNLI Arklow lifeboat.
The skipper, suffering from smoke inhalation, was airlifted to hospital in Waterford by the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 117 helicopter.
The MCIB says this was “a very serious marine casualty resulting in a major fire, an abandoned ship and the subsequent sinking..."
A tug boat with fire-fighting capabilities tried to extinguish the blaze, but the Suzanne II sank within three hours.
RNLI Arklow lifeboat coxswain Ned Dillon praised the crew at the time for their rapid actions.
The MCIB says that the fire detection system failed to work, and had been tested as part of a survey in July 2018. There was no record of its most recent test as the vessel’s logbooks were lost in the sinking.
Under existing regulations, testing of fire systems should take place monthly.
The MCIB’s recommendations include requesting the Minister for Transport to issue marine notices reminding of the requirement for all crew to have basic safety training, and the requirement to ensure fire alarms are regularly tested and maintained.
It says this marine notice should include “guidance on the inspection and testing of fire detection systems onboard fishing vessels of 15-24 metres in length”.