Warnings issued after trawler tragedy off Northumberland coast

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The rescue services would have arrived sooner to help a trawler sinking off the north Northumberland coast last year had it been equipped with a satellite navigation system, a report has said.

The warning comes as one of three safety lessons included in a flyer to the fishing industry accompanying today’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch report into the sinking of Ocean Way, which resulted in the loss of three lives.

On November 2 last year, the 17-metre, twin-rig fishing vessel, sailing out of North Shields, capsized and subsequently sank about 100 miles east of the Farne Islands. Two of the crew were rescued about three hours later when the body of the skipper – James Noble, 45, from Throckley, Newcastle, – was also recovered; the other two crew have not been found.

The report explains: ‘At 10.58am, a signal from the vessel’s EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) was received at the UK’s search and rescue satellite receiving centre and this information was passed to the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) at 11.01am.

‘The EPIRB was not fitted with integral Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and so the signal identified the vessel, but not its position. A number of satellite passes were necessary before the EPIRB’s position could be confirmed, which took about 50 minutes.

‘The coastguard issued a Mayday Relay broadcast for the vessel and, once they had an accurate position about an hour after the accident, tasked a rescue helicopter. This helicopter arrived at the scene about three hours after the capsize’.

The analysis reads: ‘It is probable that Ocean Way broached and capsized in high following seas.

‘The vessel’s stability, which would have been reduced while surf riding, was probably further reduced due to entrapped water on deck as, unlike its sister vessels, its shelter deck area was not weathertight.

‘It was calculated that with around six tonnes of water on deck (about a foot of water), the vessel would have become unstable.

‘Ocean Way was 40 years old and was well regarded for its seakeeping qualities, yet its survey records showed a history of marginal stability compliance. No inclining test had been carried out since 2004’.

The flyer for the fishing community concludes with three safety lessons, the first being that ‘if Ocean Way’s EPIRB had been fitted with an integral GNSS receiver, the rescue services would have arrived sooner’.

It continues: ‘The water trapped on deck had an adverse effect on stability. Had the freeing ports been of the correct size and functioning this water would have been able to drain more quickly. Further, the amount of trapped water could have been significantly reduced had the shelter deck been made weathertight.

‘Quartering seas create a broaching risk for well-found vessels, and can be exceptionally hazardous to vessels with marginal stability’.

The full report’s conclusion states that the MCA is recommended to ‘take action to ensure that the EPIRBs required to be carried on UK registered fishing vessels are equipped with integral GNSS receivers’.