Boat that capsized off the coast of Wales killing three men was overloaded with whelks

An investigation into the sinking of a boat that killed three fishermen found the ship was overloaded with whelks and fishing gear.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its report on the Nicola Faith sinking off the coast of Colwyn Bay. Her crew Carl McGrath, 34, Ross Ballantine, 39, and Alan Minard, 20, were on board when the boat disappeared on Jan. 27 of last year. Their bodies were found in March 2021 off the coast of the Wirral.

The report found that the whelk potter vessel had been “extensively modified” and this “significantly reduced its margin of positive stability” before sinking just under two miles north of Rhos-on-Sea. The MAIB wrote: “On the day of the accident, the Nicola Faith had been loaded with catches and retrieved ropes from pots to the point of instability, which resulted in the vessel capsizing and subsequent sinking.”

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The investigation found that Nicola Faith was operated on in an “unsafe manner”, had not been equipped with a mandatory emergency beacon and was not reported late until the next day. The crew was not equipped with personal location beacons. Although personal flotation devices were on board, the crew did not use them “routinely”.

The MAIB added: “Maritime Agency and Coast Guard inspectors noted some of the changes. However, guidance on changes that would have triggered a stability assessment was not sufficiently clear.”

The crane used to lift Nicola Faith out of the sea
The huge crane used to lift Nicola Faith out of the sea

His report recommended that the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency revise the wording in its code of practice from a “capture limit” to a “cargo limit”. The MAIB also said the agency should “review and improve” guidance to inspectors on what level of modification should trigger further investigation into a vessel’s stability.

And the report also said the boat’s owner, Big Ship Ltd, must “ensure that a written agreement is in place to identify the organization or person responsible for the operation of any vessels it may own.”

Chief Inspector Andrew Moll said: “Yesterday we published our report on the loss of Joanna C [near Newhaven], and today they are publishing the report on the loss of Nicola Faith. Both were small fishing boats that capsized while working with fishing tackle and together, tragically, are responsible for the loss of five lives. There are important lessons about the stability of these accidents that must be understood and acted upon by all small fishing boat operators.”

He added: “Nicola Faith had been modified and the modification had not been approved. However, the vessel could have been safely operated with care. On the day of the accident, the crew were relocating their pans to a new area and transporting one day fishing too. The combined weight of the catch and fishing gear stacked on the deck was much greater than the boat was designed to carry; it capsized and all three crew were lost in that accident. Fishermen will always be tempted to land a big catch, but moving the fishing gear at the same time can be overwhelming.

“As fuel prices rise, the temptation to transport more and travel less makes economic sense, but when it comes to stability, the results could be catastrophic. The lives of five families have been destroyed by these two accidents, both All fishing vessel crews have this simple message: safety starts with good stability; know your boat’s limitations and operate within them.” You can read more stories from North Wales here.


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