B2/2009M Tugboat SPUTNIC, capsizing of the raft carrying an excavator in Luoto on 29 May 2009

On the morning of 29 May 2009, the tugboat SPUTNIC was towing a raft that carried an excavator from the island of Svartnäsgrynnan to the bottom of Kittsjöfärden. There were two persons onboard the tugboat. To the East of the Börsskärsgrynnorna islands, the raft was observed to list slightly. The other man in the tugboat went onto the raft and climbed in the cabin of the excavator with the intention of starting the excavator and trying to balance the raft by turning the excavator boom. However, after the excavator was started, the raft quickly capsized with the excavator at approximately 9:40 a.m. The excavator sank to the bottom upside down. The man was stuck in the excavator cabin. The raft floated upside down with the excavator bucket holding it in place.

The skipper of the tugboat immediately called the Emergency number. Rescue helicopter ‘Pete’ from Vaasa, carrying a doctor, was called to the location along with the Luoto fire department, Kokkola fire department and a diver, as well as an ambulance from Pietarsaari. PV OTTO MALM, the rescue vessel from the Pietarsaari Lifeboat Association, also arrived at the location. The diver was quickly able to get the man out of the cabin and the water, but resuscitation was unsuccessful. The man had been under water for approximately 45 minutes.

Wind carried the raft, now free from the excavator, and the attached tugboat to the east, where they were anchored. The tugboat was transferred to the Luoto fishing harbour on 31 May. The raft was transferred to the breakwater in the Luoto fishing harbour at night on 2 June. The excavator was moved next to the raft at night on 10 June, taken ashore on 11 June, and transferred to the company movement area for later inspection by the insurance company and necessary investigators. Small amounts of oil leaked to the sea from the excavator. The raft was brought ashore in parts and transferred to the company storage area on 29 June. The tugboat was brought ashore for inspection on 29 June. The raft and the excavator were examined on 30 June and on 5 August. The excavator was badly damaged. The raft was also found to be worn-out and had holes in several tanks. The tugboat was found to be inadequately equipped. No drawings or other documents were found for either vessel, and they had not been duly inspected.

The investigators assessed the accident to be caused by the weakened stability of the raft, which in turn was caused by water accessing several of the raft’s tanks due to the poor condition of the raft. This led to an insufficient freeboard already when the raft set out. More water accumulated during the trip, which caused the raft to list slightly and the freeboard to decrease further. Finally, the pump hole on the Starboard side was submerged, and the side tank began to fill with water. This caused the freeboard to continue to decrease, the raft to list more, and the stability of the raft to decrease quickly and result in it capsizing. The men did not notice the real reason behind the listing and therefore did not regard the situation as dangerous.

The family enterprise that owns the tugboat, raft and excavator had operated this unregistered and uninspected equipment for four years. The persons operating the machinery were not formally qualified: the operations were based on methods learned on the job in accordance with long entrepreneurship traditions in the archipelago. The company and the Finnish Maritime Administration (since 1 January 2010 Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi’s Maritime Sector) disagreed on whether the company had discussed the issue with them and received notification that inspection was not necessary.

The investigators recommend that the owners of floating equipment acquire sufficient information for determining the stability of their equipment, maintain the equipment in good condition, and not use their equipment if it leaks. They should check the requirements for the qualification of the crew and the inspection of the equipment from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi’s Maritime Sector. Expertise is required even if the equipment is not inspected.

The investigators question the use of a raft with such thin plating for such demanding work. It is recommended that the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi’s Maritime Sector examine the measurement and maintenance requirements and restrictions of use for rafts of this type.

Download the investigation report in Finnish:

B2/2009M Report (pdf, 7.75 Mt)

or in Swedish:

B2/2009M Report (pdf, 7.5 Mt)

Published 29.5.2009