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News conference for Caledonian (M15P0286)
Opening remarks

Kathy Fox
Chair, Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Glenn Budden
Investigator-in-Charge, Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Richmond, British Columbia
14 December 2016

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Kathy Fox

Good morning.

On September 5, 2015, around 3:30 in the afternoon, the Caledonian, a large, 100-foot fishing vessel, capsized 20 nautical miles off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Three of the four crew on board had decades of experience, yet, like many other fishermen, they were not wearing a personal flotation device (or PFD). The fourth crew member was new to the industry and wore a PFD. He was also the only one who survived.

At the TSB, we have seen similar circumstances happen far too often. In fact, on average, 10 fishermen die at sea each year somewhere in Canada's commercial fishing industry. These deaths are nearly all preventable. And that's why this issue is still on our Watchlist.

Today we are issuing five recommendations in two broad areas—recommendations aimed not just at preventing a repeat of what happened to the crew of the Caledonian, but at reducing the overall risks for all commercial fishermen, from coast to coast to coast.

First, because vessel stability was such a key factor in this occurrence (and in so many others that we investigate each year), we want all commercial fishing vessels, large and small, to have their stability assessed; and we want this stability information to be kept up to date and presented in a way that is clear and useful for the fishermen.

Second, we want both regulators, WorkSafeBC and Transport Canada, not only to require crews on fishing vessels to wear suitable PFDs at all times on deck, but to develop ways to confirm that they are complying.

I'll talk more about these recommendations shortly, but first I'll turn things over to Investigator-in-Charge Glenn Budden. He'll walk you through the details of this accident, explaining how and why things went wrong for the Caledonian and its crew that day.

Glenn Budden

Thank you, Kathy.

What causes a vessel to capsize? The short answer is when it reaches the point where it no longer has the ability to right itself. Every fishing vessel is unique. Its stability is affected by many things, such as hull design, and the weight and distribution of items like catch, fuel, gear and equipment.

In this occurrence, the crew had been fishing for two days. After the final catch was hauled aboard, and as the crew prepared to stow it, the vessel began to roll over. Within moments, water covered the deck and it quickly became evident the vessel was going to capsize.

No distress call was sent and none of the vessel's emergency signaling devices activated. As a result, the Canadian Coast Guard were only alerted some six hours later by the vessel owners' representative, who had been unable to contact the vessel.

During those six hours, the master and one other crew member clung to the overturned hull until the vessel sank, at which point the liferaft deployed. Only the crew member wearing the PFD was able to swim to the liferaft and climb inside. He was rescued several hours later, and the bodies of the other three crew members were subsequently recovered.

The capsizing of the Caledonian was caused by a combination of factors, the most significant ones being the operating practices—such as where the fuel was stored, the way fish and seawater were loaded—as well as the tendency of vessels to grow heavier over the years, something known as weight creep. These factors caused the vessel to float lower in the water and reduced its stability, which changed its safe operating limits.

The crew, however, did not recognize the vessel had grown heavier with time or that their operating practices were putting themselves and the vessel at risk.

To talk more about this, I'll turn things back over to Kathy Fox. She'll elaborate on the five recommendations the TSB is making today.

Kathy Fox

Thank you, Glenn.

Weight creep is something that happens to the majority of vessels. Gear and equipment accumulate, insulating material becomes water logged, and paint builds up. The TSB's investigation revealed that, even before adding fuel and supplies and crew for the trip, the Caledonian was over 50 tons heavier on the day of the occurrence than when its stability was last assessed in 1976 – even though it hadn't undergone any major modifications since then. To put that in perspective, on a vessel this size, that's almost 20 percent heavier, meaning the vessel floated nearly half a metre lower in the water.

Increased weight is not the only change that happens to vessels. Over the years it is not uncommon for operating practices to change. For example, on the Caledonian, it had become the practice to use only the rear fuel tanks throughout the voyage, instead of the centre tanks. This differed from the vessel's original stability assessment by redistributing almost 15 tons of fuel aft when the vessel was loaded, causing the vessel to float lower at the stern.

The crew, however,did not realize how on-board operating practices affected the Caledonian's stability because they did not have up-to-date stability information, and the information they did have was not in a clear, useful format.

Although all large fishing vessels like the Caledonian are required to undergo stability assessments, many TSB investigations have identified similar issues involving small fishing vessels (those less than 24 metres in length), many of which are not required to undergo such an assessment.

Therefore, three recommendations issued by the TSB today are aimed at ensuring all crews have access to adequate stability information that meets their needs. That means:

Moreover, these operating limits must be easily measurable, and relevant to the vessel's operation. For example, that could mean marking the sides of a vessel's hull to indicate the maximum operating waterline. Or maximum permitted loads can be specified in the most relevant unit of measure—total catch weight for instance, or the safe number of traps. Regardless, for it to be of real, practical use, the information must be presented in a format that is clearly understood and easily accessible to crew.

The other two recommendations today address the most basic step that fishermen can take: wearing a personal flotation device.

Here in British Columbia, roughly 70 percent of all fishing-related fatalities in the past decade came while not wearing a PFD. Yet many fishermen still don't wear them.

Yes, the industry is starting to make a push for broader use of PFDs. However, regulations currently require that PFDs be worn only if fishermen identify a risk. But you never know when you could end up in the water. So let's be clear… all fishermen need to wear a PFD. It's that simple. And if making it mandatory is what it takes, then that's what the regulators need to do.

It's no longer acceptable to think of fishing as just a dangerous job and that nothing can be done. It's no longer acceptable to say “it's just the way we do things.” There are steps that we can take; there are steps that we must take.

Thank you.