10 years after lives lost in Sea Gypsy sinking, safety regulation still not enacted

10 years after lives lost in Sea Gypsy sinking, safety regulation still not enacted

The small fishing vessel, Sea Gypsy Enterprises, sank off the coast of Cape Spear on Sept. 12, 2009. (CBC)

Ten years after the sinking of a small fishing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland, a safety measure that was highlighted by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada in the wake of the incident has still not been enacted.

Transport Canada subsequently said it was considering a regulation that would see alarms on vessels to alert crews if ships started taking on water below the deck.

The Sea Gypsy Enterprises sank 130 kilometres east of Cape Spear on Sept. 12, 2009. Three fishermen were rescued, the body of a fourth crew member was recovered from the scene, and another man was lost at sea.

The TSB report listed the lack of an alarm as one of its findings into the causes and contributing factors of the incident.

“Without the benefit of an alarm or some other means to detect water ingress, the crew did not detect the flooding until it was too late,” the report reads.

Around that time, Transport Canada told CBC News it was “considering making it mandatory for fishing vessels to install alarms that would warn crews when there is too much water in a vessel’s hull.” 

But, a decade later, that still hasn’t happened, and the measure remains under consideration.

Transport Canada declined interview requests from CBC News, but instead sent a statement, saying “bilge level sensors are being considered a mandatory requirement for new and existing fishing vessels.”

Transport Canada said the amended Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations, which will update the current construction requirements for small fishing vessels, will be published in late 2020.

Similar TSB recommendation made 25 years ago

Pierre Murray, the TSB’s manager of regional operations for Atlantic Canada, has done hundreds of investigations over the past 27 years — including the Sea Gypsy case.

“It was an interesting investigation,” he said. “We have to respect the survivors and the families, and try to push … to improve safety.”

Yet, he said, things haven’t changed with respect to some of the issues that the TSB has encountered over the years.

Pierre Murray is the Transportation Safety Board’s manager of regional operations for Atlantic Canada. (David Laughlin/CBC)

“The issue of a high-level bilge alarm has been mentioned in several of our reports,” he said. 

“Matter of fact, in 1994, we issued a recommendation to make sure that large fishing vessels are equipped with this type of equipment.”

The Sea Gypsy — a small fishing vessel — would not have been affected by the 1994 recommendation, which specifically targeted large vessels.

Meanwhile, after the sinking of a small fishing vessel in 1998 that led to the deaths of five crew members, the TSB issued a safety concern about the lack of progress in installing water level detection and alarm systems in compartments below the water level.

Murray said, to this day, the recommendation hasn’t been sufficiently addressed by Transport Canada.

“This particular one is still being assessed as unsatisfactory, until we see change — and the change might come with that new regulation that is in the books to be published … at the end of next year,” he said.

“But it’s still a long way to go, and how it will look, and what it would look like — that’s something we’ll have to [wait and see].”

Actions ‘too few and too slow’

Murray said the slow progress on addressing the TSB’s recommendations is one of its key safety issues on its 2018 watchlist.

The TSB’s website states that “actions taken to fix long-standing, high-risk safety deficiencies in the air, marine, and rail modes of transportation have been too few and too slow.”

The vast majority of those recommendations are noted as being directed to Transport Canada.

As of October 2018, there were 62 recommendations that were issued more than a decade ago, that had still not been fully addressed.

That accounts for more than 10 per cent of all of the TSB’s recommendations. 

Among that list are 12 marine recommendations, half of which date back 20 years or more.

Pierre Murray looks at the TSB’s online report of the sinking of the Sea Gypsy Enterprises. ( David Laughlin/CBC)

“Every recommendation that we do, every one of them we believe they should be in place as soon as possible,” Murray said. 

“Twenty-five years to address a recommendation [like the high-level bilge alarms] in … anybody’s book is a bit long.”

The TSB website says delays in amending the regulations for alarms in large fishing vessels “still present an ongoing safety risk for a large number of fishermen, as evidenced by the number of fatalities reported.”

In a statement, Transport Canada told CBC News that it regularly reviews outstanding recommendations, and has taken steps to ensure regulatory actions proceed more quickly.

Safety practices and procedures

Commercial fishing safety is also one of the TSB’s key issues, due to the “disproportionately large numbers of accidents and fatalities.”

On average, Murray said, there are 10 fatalities in the Canadian fishing industry every year.

“Last year, we had 18 deaths in the fishing industry, and this year, up to now … we have nine fatalities,” he said.

Murray said, through their investigations, there are some issues that keep coming up time and again — including workplace safety.

The TSB’s report into the sinking of the Sea Gypsy Enterprises stated: “In the absence of established safety practices and procedures, there is a risk that unsafe conditions will remain unidentified and unaddressed.” (David Laughlin/CBC)

One of the findings in the TSB’s report into the Sea Gypsy sinking was the lack of established safety practices and procedures.

Transport Canada told CBC News that a representative for a vessel is responsible for developing an emergency plan, and ensuring that all crew and passengers receive safety training.

‘Don’t wait’ to enact safety measures

Murray said, in general terms, it’s good to be prepared. But that isn’t always happening.

“If you want the crew to be able to survive a sinking, you want the crew to be ready — and the best way to be ready is to train and practice,” he said. 

“[When] we go investigate, we ask, ‘When was the last time you did a fire drill, a boat drill?’ And the answer is oftentime, ‘We never did.’ So when accidents happen … it’s all for the first time.”

Don’t rely on minimum regulations… to get [you] back to port safe.– Pierre Murray

Murray said he has one piece of advice for those working in the commercial fishing industry.

“Don’t rely on minimum regulations … to get [you] back to port safe,” he said.

“Regulations are minimum, and although we were talking about this high level bilge alarm as not being enforced until next year — don’t wait … 

“If they’re going to bring you back home to your family safe, do it, implement those things, and don’t wait to be forced … to do it.”

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