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Findings from TSB investigation M20A0160 – Fatal sinking of the fishing vessel Sarah Anne in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador in May 2020

Investigations conducted by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) are complex since an accident rarely results from a single cause. In the case of the fatal sinking of the fishing vessel Sarah Anne on 25 May, 2020, several factors led to the accident. The 7 findings below detail the causes and contributing factors that led to this occurrence. Additionally, the TSB made 2 other findings.

Findings as to causes and contributing factors

These are conditions, acts or safety deficiencies that were found to have caused or contributed to this occurrence.

  1. It is likely that the vessel capsized suddenly, resulting in all crew members entering the water unexpectedly.
  2. Since there was no formal stability assessment of the vessel, the crew made operating decisions without knowing the vessel’s actual safe operating limits, which may have negatively affected the vessel’s stability and led to it capsizing and sinking.
  3. Without critical pieces of life-saving equipment for flotation and protection from environmental conditions, the crew members remained in the cold water, likely unassisted, and drowned.
  4. The voyage of the Sarah Anne was not actively monitored by any external system and no distress signal was received. This resulted in a delay in the SAR response of several hours after the crew likely entered the water, severely reducing the crew’s chances of survival.

Findings as to risk

These are conditions, unsafe acts or safety deficiencies that were found not to be a factor in this occurrence but could have adverse consequences in future occurrences.

  1. If operators of a very high frequency–digital selective calling radio do not have the radio programmed with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity for emergency use, it will not function as intended in an emergency and will not alert authorities, significantly reducing the possibility of rescue.
  2. If fishing vessels are not registered in a Transport Canada register, and there are no mechanisms in place to ensure the accuracy of the register information, there is a risk that fish harvesters will not know about, understand, or adhere to regulations intended to increase fishing safety.
  3. The safety of fish harvesters will be compromised until the complex relationships and interdependencies among safety issues are recognized and addressed by the fishing community.

Other findings

These items could enhance safety, resolve an issue of controversy, or provide a data point for future safety studies.

  1. Voluntary carriage of automated identification system transponders by fishing vessels of all sizes would increase vessel visibility and provide up-to-date information to local commercial traffic and those ashore who actively monitor a vessel’s voyage.
  2. The investigation looked at multiple sources of information to explain the loss of the Sarah Anne. Overall, there was no indication that the Sarah Anne was struck by a larger commercial vessel.