The Transportation Safety Board of Canada released a report Tuesday morning that suggests modifications made to a sports fishing vessel likely played a role in a fatal accident near Tofino that killed two fishers last year.
An operator and four passengers were forced to abandon the Catatonic, a roughly 10-metre catamaran, after it partially sank on April 30, 2017.
The vessel had left Tofino around 9:30 a.m., and was observed to be taking on water from the stern, according to the TSB’s report. Around 1 p.m., the operator prepared to return to Tofino but was unable to re-start the starboard engine. The vessel’s port engine and bilge pumps also stopped working as did its navigation and communications equipment.
The operator reported the emergency to the Canadian Coast Guard before abandoning ship along with the four passengers. All five were recovered from the water by two assisting vessels, but two passengers were later pronounced dead. Both were from Alberta. One was 32 years old. The other was 42.
The TSB’s report suggests modifications made to the Catatonic compromised the safety of the vessel’s original design.
“Modifications made to the vessel allowed the water shipped on deck to first enter the fish boxes and then drain into the pontoon bilges,” it states. “Holes that had been made in the shipside and the bulkhead also allowed the water to enter the pontoons and into the stern buoyancy compartments and contributed to the stern’s sinking.”
The TSB also determined that the vessel was originally designed to have two batteries operating separately, but had been modified so that both batteries could be charged and drained simultaneously while serving as the vessel’s sole power source.
“When the battery unit drained, the vessel was without a power supply for critical equipment such as the engines, bilge pumps, and VHF radiotelephones,” the report states. “Additionally, because the vessel’s power supply was depleted, the very high frequency (VHF) radios and global positioning system were not functional; the operator was therefore unable to relay the vessel’s exact location to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.”
The report notes it took search and rescue crews roughly one hour and 40 minutes to locate the vessel and recover the fishers.
“If accurate position information is not provided in an emergency, there is a risk that valuable time will be lost while SAR resources try to locate the vessel,” the report states.