Language selection

Release of investigation report M20A0160 – Sarah Anne

Associated links (M20A0160)

Speaking Notes - M20A0160 (Sarah Anne)

Check against delivery.

Introduction - Kathy Fox

On May 25th 2020 shortly after midnight, the fishing vessel commonly known as Sarah Anne, departed St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Labrador, with 4 people on board to fish snow crab in Placentia Bay. Later that evening at 7:45pm local time, the vessel was reported overdue, and search and rescue resources were launched. There were no survivors, and the vessel was never found.

Today, in addition to explaining the circumstances leading to this occurrence, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is issuing one recommendation. Specifically, the Board recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans require that any Canadian vessel that is used to commercially harvest marine resources have a current and accurate Transport Canada registration.
I will be speaking in more detail about this. But before I do, I’ll ask Clifford Harvey to outline the investigation findings.

The occurrence – Cliff Harvey

Commercial fishing continues to be one of the most hazardous occupations in the country. Annually there are an average of 11 fatalities related to commercial fishing. The most common cause of fatalities is entering the water unexpectedly, usually as a result of falling overboard or if the vessel capsizes. The TSB has long been concerned about commercial fishing safety, an issue that has been on the TSB Watchlist for over 10 years.

In this occurrence, the vessel departed shortly after midnight, and was last seen at approximately 10:30am. There was no distress call received and there was no indication there was an issue until the vessel was overdue, at 7:45pm. There were no survivors. The 4 crew members were subsequently found in work clothes without any lifesaving equipment. 

The absence of lifesaving equipment and distress signals are indications that the vessel capsized suddenly. This would have resulted in all of the crew members entering the water unexpectedly, before they had the chance to put on lifejackets, personal flotation devices or immersion suits, to deploy the life raft, or to make a distress call. Without critical pieces of lifesaving equipment, the crew remained in the cold water, likely unassisted, and drowned. The water temperature at the time of the occurrence was 4 degrees Celsius. Entering into cold water may cause an initial cold-water shock response. Wearing an immersion suit, a PFD, or lifejacket, may prevent drowning during initial cold-water shock.

Additionally, the Sarah Anne’s voyage was not actively being monitored, and the vessel was not equipped with VMS and AIS. When last seen at 10:30am, the Sarah Anne was within the limits of Placentia Bay Vessel Traffic Services. The absence of active monitoring, coupled with a lack of a distress signal, resulted in a delay of several hours in the search and rescue response, severely reducing the crew’s chances of survival.

These factors are all too common in fishing accidents. The absence of distress alerting devices and not wearing PFDs on small fishing vessels has contributed to 20 occurrences and 42 fatalities from 2010 to 2020.

The investigation also reviewed the vessel’s stability. This is the ability of a vessel to right itself after being heeled over from external forces such as wind, waves, or the vessel operations. A formal stability assessment documents this critical component of seaworthiness and gives guidance to vessel operators about safe operating limits. The Sarah Anne did not have a formal stability assessment, and there was no information available regarding its stability.

To investigate the role stability may have played in the occurrence without access to the vessel or its stability information, the TSB created a model of the Sarah Anne from a sister vessel and completed a stability analysis. The analysis showed that the Sarah Anne was likely operating outside its stability limits and that the vessel’s stability would have deteriorated as the trip progressed. Without a formal stability assessment, the crew made operating decisions without knowing the vessel’s actual safe operating limits. This may have negatively affected the vessel’s stability and led to it capsizing and sinking.

The absence of a formal stability assessment in the case of the Sarah Anne is not an isolated case. In fact, the vast majority of existing fishing vessels are not required, by regulation, to have one. The TSB continues to note that stability factors play a significant role in numerous fishing vessel accidents.

I will now turn the floor back to Kathy Fox, who will talk about the TSB recommendation.

Recommendation – Kathy Fox

Fishing vessel safety is regulated by Transport Canada, while commercial fishing activity is regulated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO. Fishing vessels are required by regulation to be registered with both federal government departments in order to operate.

This investigation found that in Newfoundland and Labrador alone, there are 4000 more fishing vessels registered with DFO than with Transport Canada. This means that DFO was issuing licenses to harvest marine resources without verifying that the vessel was correctly registered with Transport Canada. The Board concluded that since DFO is a part of the Government of Canada, issuing a license may give fish harvesters the impression that they have satisfied all government requirements.

Vessel registration gives Transport Canada the opportunity to provide safety oversight and guidance to vessel owners. Additionally, up-to-date registration data means that accurate information, such as vessel size, colour, ownership, and other characteristics, are available to search and rescue authorities, safety regulators, and other organizations in the marine safety system.

Given that fish harvesters have more frequent contact with the Government of Canada through DFO, a key step in advancing commercial fishing safety will be using this relationship to promote regulatory compliance with Transport Canada safety requirements.

A current and accurate Transport Canada registration is the first step in safety oversight of commercial fishing vessels, therefore the Board recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans require that any Canadian vessel that is used to commercially harvest marine resources have a current and accurate Transport Canada registration.

This latest recommendation is meant to push for improved coordination between the two primary federal government departments that interact with this important sector. Their combined efforts can work to increase the awareness and compliance with safety requirements among all commercial fish harvesters.

Conclusion – Kathy Fox

Every year, the same safety deficiencies in the commercial fishing industry continue to put the lives of thousands of Canadian fish harvesters at risk.

In 2012, the TSB released an in-depth study on the causes of fatal fishing vessel accidents. The investigation highlighted a number of systemic factors requiring attention, in particular: vessel modifications and their impact on stability; the lack of, or failure to use, lifesaving equipment, such as PFDs, immersion suits, and emergency signaling devices; unsafe work practices; and inadequate regulatory oversight.

Here we are 10 years later talking about many of the same issues.

Beyond vessel registration and ensuring vessels are assessed for stability, it is critical that owners equip their vessels with the proper lifesaving equipment to survive a sudden capsizing. A properly registered and functioning float-free Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (or EPIRB) will increase the likelihood that a distress call is sent and received by search and rescue resources. Installing a life raft that deploys automatically will increase the chances the life raft will be available to the crew.

There are steps that fish harvesters themselves can take to increase their survivability. That is: 1) letting “people” know they need help; and 2) surviving until help arrives. Crew members on board fishing vessels can greatly increase their likelihood of survival by carrying a personal locator beacon, or PLB, to signal for help to get out of the water as soon as possible, and by wearing a PFD to remain afloat until help arrives.

Safety is a shared responsibility. Regulators, vessel owners, and fish harvesters each must take ownership of safety to reduce accidents and preventable loss of life.

Thank you.