An open and shut case

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

One June day at approximately 1:30 p.m., the watch-stander on the bridge of a 187-foot U.S.-flagged tuna purse seiner fishing in the South Pacific 625 miles northwest of Fiji heard and saw a steering alarm on the bridge and notified the skipper.

Consequences 240pxTallSimultaneously, the engineer on watch acknowledged the alarm in the engine control room. He proceeded to the rudder compartment to investigate.

The engineer discovered flooding there and observed water flowing through an open watertight door into the shaft tunnel compartment forward of the rudder compartment. The engineer left the rudder compartment to notify the chief engineer but didn't close the watertight door when he exited.

The watertight doors for both the steering compartment and the engine room were open when the incident occurred. It was normal practice on the seiner to use hold-back hooks or line to secure the doors to the bulkhead.

A four-person damage control team returned and attempted to shut the watertight door located between the rudder compartment and the shaft tunnel compartment. The team was unsuccessful, and the chief engineer gave an order to go above deck.

The team exited the area through the engine room. However, they didn't close a second watertight door between the shaft alley and the engine room.

The skipper decided to give the abandon ship order, and members of the crew prepared and launched the skiff boat and net boat. Twenty-two crew members safely boarded the boats. Another fishing boat in the vicinity recovered the 22 crewmen.

Unfortunately, two crew members remained in the wheelhouse when progressive flooding filled the rudder, shaft tunnel and engine room compartments. The flooding caused the vessel to overturn and sink 40 minutes after the discovery of the flooding into waters more than 15,000 feet deep, claiming the lives of the two crew members.

Lessons learned
The U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Center determined that if either of the watertight doors had been closed and the flooding isolated to only the rudder compartment and shaft tunnel compartment, the vessel would have maintained adequate damaged-condition stability. Only after all three compartments flooded did the boat rapidly lose its stability.

Watertight doors should remain closed at all times while underway. Avoid keeping them open via the use of hold-back hooks, line or other means.

The importance of maintaining compartmentalization on any boat is paramount: It represents an inherent positive stability measure. Subversion of compartmentalization significantly reduces a vessel's ability to survive damage or flooding. Cut lines that keep watertight doors open, permanently remove hold-back hooks and place "KEEP DOOR CLOSED" labels on the doors.

The Coast Guard has issued four Safety Alerts (3-07, 1-08, 12-08 and 4-10) resulting from marine casualties and all addressing stability concerns associated with open watertight doors. The safety alerts contain several worthwhile recommendations and can be viewed at under Investigations/Safety Alerts.

There are many approaches to enhancing safety aboard fishing vessels; some involve equipment and others concern vessel operation. This article describes one of the easiest ways to increase safety aboard a fishing vessel — simply close watertight doors that can potentially save your vessel and help you to fish safe.

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

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