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Teamaker in Wheelhouse Could Have Averted Potentially Serious Grounding, Report Finds

30th December 2020
The fishing vessel Dearbhla The fishing vessel Dearbhla Credit: Courtesy MCIB report

A potentially serious incident involving a fishing vessel in Kerry’s Blasket Sound could have been avoided if there were adequate facilities in the wheelhouse to make hot drinks, a report has found. 

Five crew onboard the 23m trawler Dearbhla had a narrow escape, when their vessel struck rocks off the north-west of Inis na Bró in the Blaskets on May 14th last.

The skipper was able to manoeuvre the vessel into deeper water, but it was found to have sustained substantial damage on its stern and under the bow when it was examined later in Bere Island Boatyard, Co Cork.

The Dearbhlá was on its way from Ros-a-Mhil, Co Galway to Howth, Co Dublin via the Kerry coast with a relief skipper when the incident occurred at about 4.10 am on May 14th. 

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report into the incident records that there was a moderate northerly breeze when the vessel left Ros-a-Mhíl on the evening of May 13th, decreasing to light winds with good visibility and slight sea state.

The vessel was northwest of Sybil Point at 3 am when the skipper called a crewmember, named “A” in the report, to take over the wheelhouse watch and instructed him to proceed through Blasket Sound.

The skipper had gone to his bunk when crew member “A” changed course and then went to the tea station in the crew mess to make a cup of tea 

Before leaving the wheelhouse, he switched off the watchkeeper alarm, which is timed to give an audible sound every ten minutes to ensure the watchkeeper remains alert.

The crewman forgot to turn back on the watch alarm when he returned with his tea, and fell asleep shortly after. There was no one else on the bridge, and the bridge watch alarm was switched off also.

The vessel was on autopilot, and making a speed of 8.7 knots, but a course change was required before it reached the Blasket island of Inis na Bró.

When the fishing grounded on rocks on the northwest peninsula of Inis na Bró, the skipper was called immediately and the crew alerted 

The report says the skipper manoeuvred the fishing vessel away from the rocks, and the crew investigated the damage – establishing that there was no water ingress, and no vibration felt from the propulsion system.

As the skipper didn’t think the vessel was in danger, the emergency services were not alerted, and he continued at reduced speed while a continuous assessment was made 

After the skipper contacted the owner at 8 am, the vessel was re-routed to Berehaven for inspection and damage assessment at Bere Island Boatyard, arriving at 9am. 

On May 15th, the vessel was inspected by a Marine Survey Office (MSO) surveyor, who detained it on the grounds of the damage to the bow and stem and expired certification.

The MCIB report says that “by falling asleep whilst on watch in the wheelhouse, the watchkeeper did not make the necessary course alteration to keep the vessel in safe and navigable waters” 

It says the incident may have been averted if the required course change to navigate Blasket Sound safely was better supervised, and if there were adequate facilities in the wheelhouse to make beverages and allow watchkeepers to take light refreshments 

It also says it may have been averted if the watchkeeper alarm panel keyed switch facility had been used as intended by its designer.

It says that “no evidence was provided demonstrating that the crew had received adequate training to reduce the risks of endangering the health and safety of the crew or preventing accidents”.

It recommends the Minister for Transport should remind owners and operators of fishing vessels of the need for training under the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Fishing Vessels) (15 – 24 metres) Regulations 2007, particularly relating to health and safety and accident prevention.

It also says the minister should remind owners and operators of the obligation to notify the MSO Chief Surveyor when a vessel has been involved in a marine casualty.

 It recommends the minister issue a marine notice to remind vessel owners and operators to ensure “all navigation is planned in adequate detail, and that passage plans, with contingency plans where appropriate, are compiled and made known to the crew”. 

These contingency plans and procedures should include provision for a grounding event or collision incident, it says.

Download the full report here.

Published in MCIB
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