Imagine that you are the skipper of a trawler who has never felt the need to wear a PFD. In fact, none of the crew wears a PFD, except for the mate who always has his on.
Now fast forward a bit to when your boat has capsized and it’s just you and the mate in the water and you’re clinging to his PFD.
But when it’s obvious it won’t keep both of you afloat, you do what you have to do: you let go and drift off.
The 100-foot Canadian trawler Caledonian had been fishing in all kinds of weather and sea conditions for 40 years, while putting away millions of pounds of fish. She always returned to port.
Then what happened on Sept. 5, 2015, when she didn’t return and only one of four crewmembers survived?
That’s the question Canada’s Transportation Safety Board set out to answer.
It was the Caledonian’s last tow of the trip and the tow was split into two bags. The entire first bag —15 tons — went into the center port fish hold. Then the trouble started as the Caledonian listed to port and water came in through the freeing ports. Things only got worse when the second bay — 24 tons — came onboard and the Caledonian’s stability went to hell as she listed further to port and trimmed by the stern. A quick turn to starboard course was an attempt to correct the list, but the Caledonian capsized within a couple of minutes — about 20 miles west of British Columbia’s Nootka Sound.
That shouldn’t have happened — after all, the Caledonian had a stability assessment. The problem is the last stability assessment was in 1976 and since then the Caledonian’s lightship weight had increased by 51.3 tons. “Weight creep” it’s called and for the Caledonian included, among other things, a second net drum and trawl, gear stowed in void spaces, fish hold insulation that absorbed water, sedimentation in tanks and a buildup of coatings.
Thus she floated nearly a meter lower putting the waterline about level with the main deck and the stern trim was increased. The Caledonian’s increase in lightship weight and faulty operating practices for storing fuel, water and loading fish all contributed to the capsizing.
It happened so fast there wasn’t time for the crew to grab PFDs or immersion suits. The mate was the only survivor and was rescued after several hours.