News release

Capsizing and sinking of fishing vessel Bessie E. in Mamainse Harbour, Ontario, highlights gaps in safety promotion and oversight in commercial fishing industry

Richmond Hill, Ontario, 21 June 2017 – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) today released its investigation report (M16C0014) on the capsizing and sinking of the fishing vessel Bessie E. in Mamainse Harbour, near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. This report highlights gaps in federal, Ontario provincial and Batchewana First Nation Band oversight and gaps in efforts to promote safety in the commercial fishing vessel industry.

On 16 February 2016, the fishing vessel Bessie E., with the master and four crew members on board, sustained an engine failure while returning to Mamainse Harbour, Lake Superior, Ontario, after a day of fishing. The investigation found that the vessel's engine shut down as the rolling of the vessel in the prevailing seas most likely disturbed sediment in the fuel tanks. The sediment then clogged the fuel filters, restricting fuel supply to the engine. If vessel fuel system repairs are not done correctly and are not performed by a qualified person, the safety of the crew, vessel, and environment may be at risk.

While work was being carried out to restart the engine, the vessel drifted outside of the harbour and closer to shore. The vessel then touched bottom and the wind pushed it until it was parallel to the rocky shore. Everyone on board jumped ashore, and the vessel capsized and sank shortly afterwards. There were no injuries, though the vessel was a total loss.

The investigation highlights several factors as to risk in the areas of safety oversight and promotion in the commercial fishing vessel industry. It could not be determined whether the master held any marine certificates required by regulation, and there were several regulatory safety deficiencies found on the vessel. If there is no oversight for all commercial fishing operations to ensure regulatory compliance, there is a risk that safety deficiencies will not be detected within those fishing operations.

Furthermore, it was determined that if governments and leaders in the fishing community do not work collaboratively to ensure that fishermen can and do work safely, then fishermen may not employ safe working practices. The TSB has previously issued a recommendation (M99-02) calling for the provinces to review their workplace legislation with a view to presenting it in a manner that will be readily understood by those to whom it applies. Federal and provincial courts have indicated that the provinces have the responsibility of regulatory oversight of the "business of fishing." The investigation raised doubts as to whether the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act is beingapplied to commercial freshwater fishing vessels. The Ontario Ministry of Labour defines fishermen as workers engaged in commercial aquaculture; therefore, other commercial freshwater fishermen in Ontario, who do not meet this definition, may not fall under its jurisdiction. The Ministry of Labour regulates only fishing vessels that are registered with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board and where crew members meet the definition of a "worker".

Numerous other deficiencies, as revealed in the TSB's Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada, were also found. In particular, fishing safety will be compromised until the complex relationship and interdependency among safety issues is recognized and addressed by the fishing community. Commercial fishing safety is on the TSB Watchlist.

See the investigation page for more information.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-994-8053

Date modified: