Backgrounders

Background and Recommendation
Marine Investigation M04N0086

Stability Approval for Small Fishing Vessels

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's (TSB) investigation into the capsizing of the small fishing vessel Ryan's Commander (M04N0086) has identified a recurring safety deficiency that warrants urgent remedial action.

On 19 September 2004, the small fishing vessel Ryan's Commander of 149.4 gross tons departed Bay de Verde, Newfoundland and Labrador, for a trip to its home port of St. Brendan's (Cottel Island), Newfoundland and Labrador. The trip was uneventful as the vessel proceeded on a northerly course. At approximately 1800 Newfoundland daylight time1, the vessel was about seven nautical miles off Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the course was altered toward the northwest. During the next 30 minutes, with the vessel running beam to the wind and sea, it experienced three heavy rolls to port. It recovered from the first two; however, the third roll left the vessel on its beam-ends. A distress message was transmitted and the crew of six abandoned ship into an inflatable liferaft. One crew member was subsequently rescued from the liferaft by a search and rescue helicopter. The remaining five crew members were thrown from the liferaft into the water as the liferaft came ashore; there were two fatalities.

The Ryan's Commander was constructed earlier that year under the Small Fishing Vessel Inspection Regulations. Although the Transport Canada approved general arrangement plan of the vessel called for the submission of stability data upon completion of the vessel's construction, no stability data for this vessel was submitted for approval and the vessel's stability was not fully assessed. However, the vessel was issued a steamship inspection certificate.

In August 2002, the TSB investigated an accident involving the small fishing vessel Cap Rouge II, which capsized with seven persons on board off the entrance to the Fraser River, British Columbia.2 Five persons, including two children, remained within the overturned hull and drowned. The investigation into this accident found that the vessel's inherent transverse stability was progressively reduced by structural additions and the installation of more and heavier fishing gear. Furthermore, the installation of additional gear and its effects on stability were not monitored or assessed by a qualified person, nor brought to the attention of Transport Canada (TC) inspectors. None of these modifications, having an adverse effect on vessel stability, was noticed by TC inspectors during routine quadrennial inspections.

Current regulations require that only those small fishing vessels (over 15 gross tons but not more than 150 gross tons) engaged in fishing for herring or capelin submit stability data for approval. Other fishing vessels, such as the Ryan's Commander, are not required to submit such data for approval, nor is there any requirement for owners of these vessels to forward this information to TC for safety review or information purposes.

In May 2003, TC decided to modernize stability requirements and establish mandatory stability requirements that would be applicable to all fishing vessels under 24 metres in length, regardless of the type of fishery in which they are engaged. Any new stability requirements applicable to new and existing fishing vessels were to be incorporated in the new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations, then scheduled to come into force in 2006.

The Board was encouraged by TC's intent to extend the application of appropriate stability standards for all small fishing vessels. However, in light of the findings of the investigation into the Cap Rouge II, the Board was concerned that the lives of crews on fishing vessels will continue to be exposed to undue risk until such time as new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations were introduced. Therefore, in the interim, the Board recommended that:

The Department of Transport require all new inspected small fishing vessels of closed construction to submit stability data for approval. (M03-05, issued November 2003)

and that:

The Department of Transport require all existing inspected small fishing vessels currently without any approved stability data be subjected to a roll period test and a corresponding freeboard verification not later than their next scheduled quadrennial inspection. (M03-06, issued November 2003)

In its February 2004 response, TC indicated that any new requirements to address fishing vessel stability concerns must follow due regulatory development process and were expected to be incorporated in the new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations. The Board was concerned that the response provided no indication of substantive action or commitment to addressing the safety issue in the short term. In July 2004, the Board assessed TC's response to the two recommendations as "Unsatisfactory" and conveyed it to TC.

In October 2004, subsequent to a follow-up meeting with TC officials in August 2004, TSB staff was informed that, until the new regulations come into effect, TC was considering targeting, in concert with other agencies and fishing vessel associations, both new and existing fishing vessels considered to be a risk regarding their stability.

The Board acknowledges TC's intention to extend the application of appropriate stability standards to all small fishing vessels in the new regulations, which are now due to come into force no earlier than mid 2007. In waiting for regulations to be promulgated before taking action, vessels will continue to be at risk. Section 48 of the existing Small Fishing Vessel Inspection Regulations allows inspectors to require any test to be made to satisfy themselves that a vessel is seaworthy for its intended purpose. This, in conjunction with uniform guidelines, would provide an opportunity to identify vessels at risk for which stability data should be submitted for approval.


It is recognized that a primary line of defence is to help ensure that, before entering into service, these vessels are designed with adequate stability throughout a range of loading conditions related to the vessel's intended service. Notwithstanding the lack of formal and coordinated requirements to have all small fishing vessels submit stability data for approval, some TC offices have taken some independent action in this regard. For example, information gathered during the investigation on the capsizing of the Ryan's Commander indicated that the St. John's office had drafted internal guidelines in 1999 stating that a vessel fitted with refrigerated salt water tanks be required to submit stability data for approval.3 In 2004, the Quebec regional office adopted guidelines that defined specific conditions for the full stability assessment of new and existing small fishing vessels.4 The Quebec guidelines considered factors including the length of the vessel, the limitations of the voyage, the arrangement of the vessel, and the installation of anti-roll equipment.

The absence of formal requirements has led to inconsistency and confusion in the application of ad hoc policies/guidelines/procedures to identify which small fishing vessels must submit stability data for approval on a regional basis. This allows vessels that may have inadequate stability characteristics to continue to enter into service. The Board, therefore, believes that interim safety measures are necessary to reduce risks in the interest of small fishing vessels.

Since 1990, the Board has expressed concern regarding the detrimental effect that structural modifications may have upon vessel stability.5 Since the capsizing of the Cap Rouge II, the TSB has initiated investigations into five capsizing accidents, including the Ryan's Commander, which have resulted in the loss of 11 lives.6

Of the approximate 4500 existing small fishing vessels subject to inspections by TC, and as a result of vessel modifications, the majority has either no approved stability data or has incomplete stability data. When modifications are carried out that adversely affect stability, the vessel and crew are at risk, and crew decision making based on inaccurate and incomplete data is detrimental to the safe operation of the vessel.

In the absence of appropriate stability data, fishers may not fully appreciate the risks inherent in the operation of their vessels. Consequently, the Board is concerned that, in the short term, new and existing small fishing vessels will be operated without the benefit of a proper assessment of their stability characteristics. The Board, therefore, recommends that:


The Department of Transport ensure that the Board's previous recommendations M03-05 and M03-06 are immediately implemented.

M05-04

As the investigation proceeds, the Board may make further safety recommendations should additional safety deficiencies be identified.

  • 1.   All times are Newfoundland daylight time (Coordinated Universal Time minus two and a half hours).
  • 2.   TSB Marine Investigation Report M02W0147
  • 3.   Transport Canada, Draft: Marine Safety's Recommended Guidelines for the Installation of Refrigerated Sea Water Systems Onboard Small Fishing Vessels, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, 1999
  • 4.   Document No. SGDDI: 715537, version 1, April 2004
  • 5.   TSB Marine Investigation Report M90L3033
  • 6.   Ongoing TSB investigations into the capsizing of the small fishing vessels Hope Bay (M04W0034), Prospect Point (M04W0225), Melina and Keith II (M05N0072), and Ocean Tor (M05W0141)