New Zealand | TAIC urgent safety recommendation after Easy Rider Inquiry

NZ | 7 May 2012

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has issued an urgent safety recommendation emerging from its continuing inquiry into the capsize and sinking of the fishing boat Easy Rider off Stewart Island on 15 March. Eight people died and one person survived the tragedy.

“There appear to have been stability limitations with the Easy Rider which will be shared by other boats of the same design,” says the Commission’s Chief Investigator of Accidents Captain Tim Burfoot. “The boats can be operated safely within these limitations, but owners and skippers need to know of them first to do so.”

“While these limitations have been known previously, it may be that information has not been passed on over the years with changes of owners, skippers and surveyors for these boats. The Commission has asked the Director of Maritime New Zealand to ensure that other boats of the same design are located and their owners are advised of this, and he’s undertaken to take the necessary action.

The Commission believes there may be at least five boats of nine boats of the same design built nearly 40 years ago still in service.

“Urgent safety recommendations are a mechanism by which the Commission can ensure matters that appear to need attention can be addressed when they are found, rather than waiting for issue of an interim or final report.

“I have to stress that the Commission has not yet made a finding as to whether the issue highlighted today contributed to the Easy Rider accident, but it is of concern. Accidents and their impacts typically result from a range of factors coming together,” Captain Burfoot says.

The Commission hopes to publish a final report into the tragedy by about March 2013.

Urgent Safety Recommendation

Urgent recommendation

Issued under section 9(1) of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission Act 1990

At about 2000 on 14 March 2012, the fishing vessel Easy Rider departed Bluff for Great South Cape Island off the west coast of Stewart Island. The skipper, 2 crew members and 6 passengers were on board. The passengers were to be offloaded at Great South Island, where they were to prepare for the upcoming mutton-bird harvest. The skipper then intended to travel to his fishing grounds to engage in commercial fishing.

The weather at the time that the vessel sailed was described by local fishermen as poor. It was forecast to deteriorate further with the passing of a frontal weather system across the Foveaux Strait area. The wind was forecast to increase to about 40 to 50 knots from the northwest before easing to 15 knots from the south west after the weather front had passed.

During 14 March the skipper loaded Easy Rider with ice and bait in the fish hold, and loaded cod and crayfish pots and other associated fishing gear on the deck. The skipper then loaded stores, equipment and personal effects for the ‘mutton-birders’. The stores and equipment covered most of the aft fishing deck and in places was stacked as high as the roof of the wheelhouse.

At about 0003 on 15 March the Easy Rider was north of the Bishop and Clerks Islands at the western end of the Foveaux Strait in an area known for strong variable currents and turbulent water. The Easy Rider was engulfed by a large wave in this area and capsized, remaining afloat for about 2 hours before sinking. The only survivor was one crew member who was sitting out on deck at the time. He described the wave swamping the deck and the vessel heeling violently to port and capsizing. 4 bodies have been recovered and 4 are still missing.

The Easy Rider was believed to be built in about 1975 by Billingham to the ‘Owenga’ design for use in the Chatham Islands fisheries. The vessel was constructed of steel and was about 11 metres overall length with a beam of about 3.55 metres. It was powered by a single diesel engine. There was thought to have been 9 of its class built. Four (including the Easy Rider) have been lost at sea over the years for differing reasons including one that was overwhelmed by a large wave, and 5 are thought to be still in use. One of these 5 is currently being used for commercial fishing out of Bluff.

The Commission is in the process of firstly modelling the Easy Rider’s ‘light ship’ stability from data obtained for other vessels of the Owenga class, and secondly estimating its actual stability on the accident voyage.

The Commission has evidence that since the Owenga class fishing vessels were built, authorities have recognised that they had limited reserve stability and could become unstable if too much weight was loaded on deck. In one case the surveyor recommended that a plaque be placed in the wheelhouse warning skippers not to load too much on deck. The Commission has made preliminary calculations that support this view.

Thirty seven years after the Owenga class of fishing vessels were built and with successive changes in ownership, it is possible that the current owners of the remaining vessels may not be aware of the special stability characteristics of their vessels.

The Commission recommends that the Director of Maritime New Zealand trace the whereabouts of the remaining Owenga class fishing vessels and ensure that the appropriate stability calculations have been made for each vessel and alert the owners to any special stability characteristics they should be considering in the daily operation of their vessels. (020/12)

On 1 May 2012, the General Manager, Maritime Services of Maritime New Zealand replied:

The Director has commenced a process to identify all Owenga class fishing vessels to assess stability characteristics and discuss associated operational requirements with the owners of the vessels. It is expected that this process will be conducted by the end of May 2012.

The Director is also assessing whether there are other vessels that may have similar stability characteristics requiring attention. It is intended that this assessment process be completed by the end of June 2012, with decisions as to further action being made at that time.

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