Report on Port Hood drownings raises no new safety issues: TSB

A report into the drowning of two Port Hood, N.S., fishermen in 2018 does not make any safety recommendations because it doesn't raise any new issues.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigator Chris Morrow said it has concluded many times that fishermen need to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) and they have to have emergency beacons on board.

He said the investigation into the capsizing of the Ocean Star II lobster boat found those to be consistent issues.

"Not that it's not an important investigation and a serious accident, but as far as what we do to advance transportation safety, we've done countless reports with the same issues," Morrow said.

An emergency beacon, known as an electronic position indicating radio beacon or EPIRB, might not have helped the crew aboard the Ocean Star II, but Morrow said they were in the water a long time without PFDs.

"For many years we've been looking for regulations that everyone, if you're on deck on any vessel, that you're wearing a PFD and now it's more out of the regulators' hands, because that's a regulation, and more in the hands of the fishermen and the fishing culture," he said.

Similar incidents

The report on the Ocean Star II investigation took more than two years to complete, even though it was supposed to be done within 200 days according to TSB standards.

Morrow said the delay occurred because three similar incidents happened within the span of a couple of weeks.

On April 30, 2018, a fishing boat off Prince Edward Island grounded with five people on board. Four were rescued off the deck, while the fifth was pulled safely from the water.

On May 5, 2018, Richard Moreau and Liz O'Connell drowned after their small crabbing boat capsized near Port Medway, N.S.

One week later, the skipper and two crew members went into the water after the Ocean Star II capsized just offshore near Port Hood. Hugh Watts and Glen MacDonald drowned in the incident, while another crew member survived.

Morrow said the investigation does not lay blame or make recommendations.

However, he said, the report became what is called a post-occurrence summary that found the men were hauling traps close to shore when a wave swamped the stern. As the boat was turning, another took the boat under the water.

Tom Ayers/CBC

All three initially survived, but as the deckhands were climbing onto the boat, another wave washed them overboard.

Nearby fishing boats saw the accident, came to help and called 911.

One of the deckhands made it to shore and found his crewmate floating nearby. He performed CPR, but was unsuccessful. The skipper washed ashore sometime later.

The boat had four PFDs available and while fishermen are increasingly wearing them, Morrow said there are still too many incidents where that is not happening.

No cause of death determined by TSB

The TSB does not determine a cause of death.

"I can't say for certain," Morrow said. "It's not our job to speculate, but they were in the water for a long time with no PFDs."

Morrow said emergency beacons are also required, but on a boat the size of the Ocean Star II, a two-way communications device, such as a cellphone, can be substituted.

An emergency beacon might not have helped in this case, because the incident happened quickly and other boats were nearby, but the beacons are still recommended because they activate automatically, he said.

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