Council recommends inspections after sinking fishing boat

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A fishing boat that sank in New England, resulting in the loss of all four fishermen, likely capsized due to poor drainage of seawater from the aft deck and hatches that n weren’t waterproof, investigators said.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday called for increased inspections and renewed its call for personal locator beacons for every crew member. The agency first made the recommendation after the loss of the cargo ship El Faro and 33 sailors in 2015.

NTSB President Jennifer Homendy urged fishing boat operators to purchase the individual radio beacons for crew members.

“Do not wait for a Coast Guard warrant,” Homendy said in a written statement. “If the Emmy Rose team had access to these devices, maybe some of them would still be with us today.”

The tragedy unfolded as the Portland-based Emmy Rose was heading to Gloucester, Massachusetts to offload approximately 45,000 pounds of fish in November 2020.

A crew member told his girlfriend in a phone call that it was the largest catch on the 82ft vessel, and she told investigators she had heard crew members exuberant laughing and having fun in the background.

A few hours later, early on November 23, the ship’s automated distress beacon signaled. The Emmy Rose disappeared without a radio distress call.

The Coast Guard dispatched a cutter and a helicopter, then other boats and planes, to the area about 25 miles east of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Rescuers found a shard of oil, an empty life raft and debris. The fishermen were never found.

With forecast gusts of up to 25 knots and sea levels of 5 to 8 feet, the Emmy Rose was coming ashore in conditions that could have put a trawler in jeopardy with waves splashing the after deck. The NTSB said seawater likely pooled on the ship’s afterdeck, failed to drain properly, and then spilled into the ship through hatches that weren’t watertight, which made the ship less stable.

The Emmy Rose was more likely to capsize due to its design and modifications, the NTSB said. The vessel was originally built for shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and was modified for fish trawling in New England waters.

“NTSB investigators found that at the time of the sinking, the Emmy Rose likely did not meet existing stability criteria, making her more susceptible to capsizing,” the agency’s report said.

The NTSB cannot mandate changes, but it has recommended inspections of port covers designed to drain water from the deck and watertight hatches, as well as individual radio beacons for crew members. The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Commercial fishing vessels are required to have an automated distress beacon that floats freely and signals rescuers. But individuals are not required to have one.

A judge awarded nearly a million dollars in damages to the fishermen’s families. U.S. District Judge John Woodcock ordered distribution of the insurance proceeds to the boat’s owner, Boat Aaron & Melissa Inc.

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