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News release

Modifications to sports fishing vessel led to partial sinking and loss of life near Tofino, BC, in April 2017

Associated links (M17P0098)

Richmond, British Columbia, 15 May 2018 – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released today its investigation report (M17P0098) into the April 2017 fatal accident involving the commercial sports fishing vessel Catatonic, near Tofino, British Columbia. The report highlights the risks posed by vessel modifications, which may compromise the safety features of the original design and increase the risk that the vessel will not be adequate for the intended voyage.

On 30 April 2017, at approximately 9:30 a.m. PDT, the sports fishing vessel Catatonic left Tofino, for nearby fishing grounds with one operator and four passengers on board. During the next few hours as the vessel anchored at various fishing spots, it was observed to take on water from the stern due to shipping seas. By 1303 PDT, as the vessel was preparing to return to the dock, the operator was unable to re-start the starboard engine. Subsequently the port engine stopped and bilge pumps, navigation equipment, and communications equipment also ceased functioning. Using a personal cellphone, the operator called the Canadian Coast Guard to report the emergency and give their approximate location. Eventually, the vessel could not maintain its upright.htmlect, and everyone on board abandoned the vessel into the water. Search and Rescue (SAR) vessels recovered the operator and passengers from the water and took them to a local hospital where two of the passengers were pronounced dead.

The investigation found that the Catatonic's stern sank primarily due to water ingress into the vessel's pontoons and stern buoyancy compartments. Modifications made to the vessel allowed the water shipped on deck to first enter the fish boxes and then drain into the pontoon bilges. Holes that had been made in the shipside and the bulkhead also allowed the water to enter the pontoons and into the stern buoyancy compartments and contributed to the stern's sinking.

Significant components of the vessel had also been modified, including its powering arrangement. The vessel's original design for two batteries operating separately was modified to allow both batteries to be charged and drained simultaneously, and act as the only power source to the entire vessel. When the battery unit drained, the vessel was without a power supply for critical equipment such as the engines, bilge pumps, and VHF radiotelephones. If vessel modifications compromise the safety features of the original design, then there is an increased risk that the vessel will not be adequate for its intended voyage.

The investigation also determined that, at the time of the occurrence, the vessel's manual emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) was not the approved type and was defective. The operator's personal locator beacon (PLB) was not activated since the operator was not familiar with its operation. Additionally, because the vessel's power supply was depleted, the very high frequency (VHF) radios and global positioning system were not functional; the operator was therefore unable to relay the vessel's exact location to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. Because the vessel's exact location could not be provided to SAR authorities, 1 hour and 40 minutes elapsed from the time the stern sank to the time everyone was recovered from the water. If accurate position information is not provided in an emergency, there is a risk that valuable time will be lost while SAR resources try to locate the vessel.

The TSB is not aware of any safety action taken as a result of this occurrence.

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: 819-360-4376