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Marine transportation safety investigation M20A0434

The TSB has completed this investigation. The report was published on 22 March 2023.

Table of contents

Sinking with loss of life

Fishing vessel Chief William Saulis
12 nautical miles NNE of Digby, Nova Scotia

View final report

The occurrence

On 15 December 2020, the fishing vessel Chief William Saulis was returning from scallop fishing when the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, received a signal from its emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), 12 nautical miles NNE of Digby, Nova Scotia. Search and rescue efforts were initiated after the vessel could not be reached via very high frequency (VHF) radio or phone. The body of 1 crew member was recovered; as of December 2022, the other 5 crew members remained missing. On 16 January 2021, the vessel was located close to where the EPIRB activated, in 66 m of water.

Safety communications


TSB Recommendation M23-05: The Department of Transport ensure that each inspection of a commercial fishing vessel verifies that each required written safety procedure is available to the crew and that the crew are knowledgeable of these procedures.

Media materials

News releases


Industry-wide surveillance issue identified in 2020 sinking of the fishing vessel Chief William Saulis
Read the news release


Speeches and presentations


Speaking Notes - M20A0434 (Chief William Saulis)
Kathy Fox, TSB Chair
Pearse Flynn, Regional Senior Investigator - Maritimes

Media advisory


TSB to issue a recommendation following investigation into the 2020 fatal sinking of the fishing vessel Chief William Saulis
Read the media advisory

Deployment notice


TSB will deploy a team to Hillsburn, Nova Scotia, following the sinking of the fishing vessel Chief William Saulis

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 16 December 2020 — The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) will deploy a team of investigators to Hillsburn, Nova Scotia, to investigate the sinking of the fishing vessel Chief William Saulis that occurred on 15 December 2020. The TSB will gather information and assess the occurrence.

Investigation information

Map showing the location of the occurrence


Photo of Pearse Flynn

Pearse Flynn has been a Senior Investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) in the Marine Branch since 2020. Before joining the TSB, Mr. Flynn worked at the Canadian Coast Guard on fleet repairs and modifications, developing repair specifications, inspecting vessels and providing onsite support to ships in drydock. He’s an associate Member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and holds a Bachelor of Engineering Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering from Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland.

Class of investigation

This is a class 3 investigation. These investigations analyze a small number of safety issues, and may result in recommendations. Class 3 investigations are generally completed within 450 days. For more information, see the Policy on Occurrence Classification.

TSB investigation process

There are 3 phases to a TSB investigation

  1. Field phase: a team of investigators examines the occurrence site and wreckage, interviews witnesses and collects pertinent information.
  2. Examination and analysis phase: the TSB reviews pertinent records, tests components of the wreckage in the lab, determines the sequence of events and identifies safety deficiencies. When safety deficiencies are suspected or confirmed, the TSB advises the appropriate authority without waiting until publication of the final report.
  3. Report phase: a confidential draft report is approved by the Board and sent to persons and corporations who are directly concerned by the report. They then have the opportunity to dispute or correct information they believe to be incorrect. The Board considers all representations before approving the final report, which is subsequently released to the public.

For more information, see our Investigation process page.

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.