MAIB highlights need for better recovery systems onboard fishing vessels

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its report into the fatal man-overboard accident on the stern trawler Copious LK 985.

The report – the purpose of which is not to attribute fault or blame – says that the vessel departed Lerwick at 10pm on 16 February, 2021 for grounds approximately 30nm to the southeast.

At around 3am on 18 February, the watchkeeper on Copious called the skipper and crew from their bunks as they approached the end of the fourth trawl of the trip.

After disconnecting the outer towing wires from the banana bar wire, the crew attempted to winch up the slack on the middle towing wire, expecting the weight to come off the banana bar chain and enable them to disconnect it.

When this did not happen, deckhand Edison Lacaste, a 45-year-old Filipino national, noticed that the hammerlock connecting the vessel-side section of the middle towing wire to the link had failed, and gave a hand signal to stop the winch.

Without prompting, Edison Lacaste made his way down to the main deck where he asked for a shackle. The skipper did not discuss the repair with the crew, but passed him a shackle before turning around to pull more of the slack from the middle wire to facilitate the repair.

A crew member on the main deck offered his assistance to the deckhand, who stepped up onto the stern bulwark with the shackle in his hand and asked the crew member to hold the back of his lifejacket. However, as the crew member and skipper turned back around from their respective tasks, they saw Mr Lacaste lose balance and fall overboard.

After taking the engine out of gear, the skipper returned to the stern and saw that the deckhand’s lifejacket had inflated. He threw a mooring line to Mr Lacaste, instructing him to wrap it around himself. However, the deckhand was panicking, and ‘pulled the slack from the line into the water’ as he tried unsuccessfully to climb the rope.

The crew managed to pull Mr Lacaste round to the recessed ladder on the port side of the vessel by using the other end of the mooring rope. The skipper then climbed down the ladder to try to calm the panicking deckhand and help him climb the ladder. The deckhand managed to grab a rung of the ladder, but a large swell took him away.

Mr Lacaste was manoeuvred to the ladder for a second time using the mooring rope, but he was becoming increasingly incapacitated, and the swell once again took him away. The crew observed the deckhand’s lifejacket ride up around his head as his body became limp.

At 3.19am, the skipper transmitted a Mayday distress call. Several further unsuccessful attempts were made by the crew of the vessel to recover the deckhand from the water.

Approximately 50 minutes after he had fallen overboard, the Coastguard rescue helicopter R900 arrived on scene. At 4am, Mr Lacaste was recovered from the water by the helicopter’s winchman and flown straight to Lerwick and transferred to the Gilbert Bain Hospital. At 5.15am, despite the medical attention he had received, he was declared deceased.

The report concludes that Edison Lacaste lost his life because ‘when he became unconscious, his incorrectly worn lifejacket did not keep his airways clear of the water and he succumbed to the effects of cold-water incapacitation and drowned before he could be recovered’.

It states that although the crew of Copious regularly carried out MOB drills, ‘neither these nor the related onboard procedure sufficiently considered the recovery of an unconscious casualty’.

The report also notes that no risk assessments were in place for working at height, and that no ‘effective additional control measures were in place to stop Edison Lacaste from falling overboard’.

The MAIB has issued a safety flyer to the fishing industry in response to the incident.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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