M2015-01 Trawler Bärbel’s (FIN) capsizing and sinking in the Archipelago Sea on 19 January 2015

Trawlers Bärbel and Huovari were pair trawling for Baltic herring in the Archipelago Sea on the 19th of January 2015. When loading the catch into Bärbel, it capsized at 16.40, and sank at 16.50.

During the loading more water than usually was accumulated in the hold because the bilge pump was not working properly. The crew tried to improve the situation by putting a submersible pump into the hold. The vessel, however, started to list to starboard a few minutes later, when approximately 15 tons of fish had been loaded. Trawler Huovari, that had been waiting in the vicinity, now manoeuvred up alongside with Bärbel. The loading of Bärbel was stopped and the crew tried to close doors and hatches. The list increased very fast and when water started to come over the ship’s rail, the crew of two had to abandon the vessel. The deckhand jumped into the sea and swam to Huovari and remained hanging in a ball fender. Bärbel's master was able to jump straight on to a ring fender at Huovari’s rail.

When Bärbel capsized it leaned on Huovari’s rail for a short while. Huovari quickly manoeuvred away from the capsized vessel. Huovari’s crew lifted Bärbel's crew of two on-board and alarmed the MRCC. The capsized Bärbel floated for a while before sinking. The Finnish Border Guard’s patrol boat Uisko and a maritime rescue helicopter were sent to the scene of the accident to inspect the situation.

The reason for Bärbel’s listing and capsizing was established to be the shifting of the water-rich fish cargo to the starboard side of the hold. The cargo could shift from one cargo compartment to another when the amount began reaching the level of the partitions in the hold. The changes done to the vessel over the years had decreased its stability to a degree that it no longer had sufficient reserve stability. After capsizing the interior of the vessel was flooded and it sank. The crew did not use survival suits and did not have time to don life wests. Without Huovari’s assistance their chances for survival in the freezing sea would have been very limited.

When Bärbel in 2011 was bought as a second hand ship to Finland, the original stability documents did not transfer with the vessel. When the vessel was surveyed and taken into use no new stability calculations were performed. For the time being the Finnish Transport Safety Agency regulations do not define how the stability of a vessel of this size should be established as sufficient. Fishermen's knowledge about stability calculations is not necessarily sufficient for estimating a vessel’s stability.

The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish Transport Safety Agency specify its regulations for surveying Class-I fishing vessels. A recommendation is also issued to the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (Trafi) to launch a development project in co-operation with other stakeholders in order to increase fishing vessel safety. The aim is to produce practical information for fishermen about fishing vessel stability, and to enhance the developing and usage of, for fishing suitable, personal work-, and rescue gear in Finland.

M2015-01 report, in finnish (pdf, 2.83 Mt)

Published 4.11.2015