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News release

Associated links (M19A0025)

Fatal sinking of the Captain Jim in 2019 attributed to compromised stability following vessel modifications

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 23 September 2021 — Drawing attention to vessel modifications that may compromise a vessel’s stability and affect the safety of its crew and passengers, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) today released its investigation report (M19A0025) into a fatal sinking that occurred in 2019 near Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia.

In the early morning of 29 January 2019, the Captain Jim was en route to Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, returning from an oil tanker that was anchored in the approaches to Halifax Harbour. Water began entering the vessel through an open freeing port. The amount of water that entered the hull quickly exceeded the capacity of the bilge pumps, and at approximately 0207 Atlantic Standard Time, the vessel became disabled 2.8 nautical miles from its destination. There were two crew members and one passenger on board. Prior to the vessel sinking, one of the crew members and the passenger managed to board the vessel’s life raft and were rescued by a Halifax Harbour pilot boat. Divers recovered the body of the other crew member inside the vessel’s wheelhouse later that day.

The investigation found that the vessel’s owner had installed freeing ports on the Captain Jim’s hull in order to allow water to drain overboard, however this reduced the vessel’s freeboard and rendered it vulnerable to water ingress. If vessel modifications are not adequately assessed for their safety implications, there is a risk that those modifications may unknowingly compromise a vessel’s stability, affecting the safety of the vessel’s crew and passengers.

The investigation also looked at decision making, safety management and regulatory surveillance as part of this occurrence. Shortly after the high-water bilge alarm sounded and water was observed accumulating on deck, the master decided to attempt to return to calmer waters. His decision was influenced by his many years of experience at sea. This experience did not provide him with the technical proficiency needed to fully understand the stability implications of the water ingress and therefore appreciate the urgency of the unfolding situation. Moreover, the company did not have a method for ensuring that vessel modifications that could affect stability were assessed, that operators and crews were familiar with stability principles as they applied to company vessels, and that all operators held the necessary certification. In addition, surveillance by the regulator did not assess vessel modifications for their safety implications.

Safety management and regulatory surveillance are Watchlist 2020 issues. As this occurrence demonstrates, if a vessel operator’s processes for managing safety are missing key elements, and there is no requirement for a formal audited safety management system, there is a risk that vessels will be unknowingly operated in a manner that compromises the safety of those on board. The issue of regulatory surveillance will remain on the Watchlist until Transport Canada provides more oversight of the commercial vessel inspection process by demonstrating that its surveillance and monitoring are effective in ensuring that authorized representatives and recognized organizations are ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

Following the occurrence, the company changed some policies related to crewing and vessel operation, including ensuring that only certified personnel operate its vessels. It also now requires that its vessels be inspected and function-tested on a quarterly basis.

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: 819-360-4376