TSB releases final report on loss of Labrador fishing vessel

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Wednesday was a tough day for Dwight Russell.

“Today, we are taking back our crab pots at the end of the season. And as you know, Marc would have been part of the crew,” said the Labrador fisherman, his voice filled with emotion.

It’s the same day the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) released its final report on Island Lady, his son Marc’s fishing boat that went missing off the coast of Labrador on September 17, 2021.

Marc and crew member Joey Jenkins were out on their last fishing trip of the season in Marc’s 24ft longliner. Their plan was to land their last catch of cod and bring their gillnets ashore.

It turned out to be their last day.

The only evidence of their work that day was a floating cod tank with debris from the boat and 10 gillnets left on the Battle Harbor wharf.

The lady from the island disappeared in the afternoon. The boat and the two men were never found.


The TSB report concluded that there was no way to know exactly what happened to the Island Lady.

“It is likely that the vessel sank and the two crew members entered the water unexpectedly, without life-saving appliances for flotation and protection from environmental conditions, and without being able to successfully launch a call. distress,” the TSB said.

Russell said the final report had no real surprises for him or his family.

NL-20092021-news-missing-labrador-fisherman-Mark-Russell Marc Russell loved fishing for cod, says his father Dwight Russell. – Contributed

Last known sighting

According to evidence collected by the TSB as part of its investigation, the island left the fish processing plant in Mary’s Harbor at 7 a.m. on September 21. Winds were blowing at 10 to 15 knots and forecast an increase in winds to 25 knots southwest in the afternoon. The water temperature was 5°C.

The Island Lady was last seen south of Battle Harbor around noon.

Russell told SaltWire the boys fished about a quarter mile from shore.

The afternoon forecast had been replaced by a gale warning, with south-westerly winds of 25 knots, increasing to 35 knots.

Shortly after 4 p.m. that afternoon, two calls were made from the boat’s satellite phone.

“A call was received by the local fish factory employee, but the conversation was interrupted and the connection was subsequently lost,” the TSB report said. “The other call was to a friend of the crew member, and a message was left on his answering machine, but the message received was incomprehensible.”

Around 6:30 p.m., when Marc Russell’s father realized he hadn’t posted on social media, as he usually did at the end of each day, he set out to find the IslandLady. Other local fishermen joined us. At that time, the wind was blowing from the southwest at 25 knots and the sea was 1.5 meters high.

According to the TSB report, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Marine Communications and Traffic Services in Labrador overheard a discussion of VHF radio research and issued a PAN PAN call. Shortly thereafter, the St. John’s Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre tasked CCG and other search and rescue resources.

But it was hard to know where to look.

Dwight Russell: - contributed
Dwight Russell: – contributed

The vessel was not fitted with functional distress alerting devices – such as an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator devices – and no distress calls were received from the vessel.

“This resulted in a delay in the initiation of search and rescue efforts and a large search area, significantly reducing the chances of survival for the crew,” the TSB report said.

Searchers, including fishing and pleasure craft, and the Coast Guard, searched 4,000 square nautical miles in the area where the Island Lady was last seen.

On September 22, searchers found debris – including a tote box full of codfish – but after 48 hours the file was turned over to the RCMP as a missing person case.

The search continued, with the help of the province, local fishing boats and the Coast Guard, but no trace was ever found of the Island Lady and her crew.

Unfortunately, similar stories have unfolded in the fishing industry.

The TSB noted that in the seven years between 2015 and 2021, there were 15 similar incidents where 34 fishermen lost their lives.

“In all of these occurrences, distress alerting devices such as an emergency position-indicating radio beacon or personal locator beacon were not used,” the TSB said, adding that when they are combined with the use of lifesaving equipment such as immersion suits and floaters, a distress alert device can be an effective way to increase the chances of surviving an emergency.

The TSB also noted the issue of commercial fishing safety is on its watch list since 2010.

This map from the TSB report shows the last known position of the Island Lady and the location of a debris field discovered the day after the boat went missing.  - Contributed
This map from the TSB report shows the last known position of the Island Lady and the location of a debris field discovered the day after the boat went missing. – Contributed

Security Advocate

Dwight Russell says there have been times over the past eight months when he and his wife Jeanette weren’t sure how they could move on.

They had two children and Marc was their only child.

“It’s been a tough year for me, Jeanette and Mackenzie (their daughter),” Russell said.

“It’s easy to hide and retreat. And it took a long time, to be honest…to get back to[fishing industry]meetings and be a part of it again,” he said.

However, to honor Marc’s memory and his love of the fishing industry, Russell said the only thing to do was carry on.

A few months after the tragedy, Russell became president of the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company (LFUSC).

In doing so, he found a meaningful way to honor Marc and Joey’s memory.

He approached the LFUSC board and management with the idea of ​​purchasing EPIRBs for small fishing vessels on the Labrador coast.

Today, 70 small boats – boats the size of Marc and smaller, have a device that will send an emergency signal in the worst case.

Russell said there was no way of knowing if his son and his friend could have been saved if they had an EPIRB on board, but the device “could eliminate search and rescue”, he said. he said, helping responders locate a crew in distress more quickly.

He added that he would like Transport Canada to make EPIRBS mandatory for all fishing vessels.

He also spends time talking to other anglers, with the aim of encouraging them to keep safety in mind and informing them of the equipment available to ensure safety.

He said that when it comes to safety, decisions are also up to individual fishers and the industry.

The TSB report did not mention the Coast Guard’s decision to call off the search after 48 hours, nor search and rescue resources in Labrador, but Russell said there was a need for improvement.

“We can’t change what happened, so we can only advocate for change in the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russell said he would try to remember Marc and Joey not for their last day, but for all the days before, for what they had achieved in their lives as “two sons of Labrador “.

Joey had an arts degree and a passion for art and photography, but fell in love with fishing, Russell says. And Marc was about to start his own business, buying the Island Lady to go cod fishing.

Although the tragedy highlights the risks of the fishing industry, Russell said fishing also provides a good life for his family.

“My future here was for Marc and my family. I still have a lot of family on the boat and I hope they will continue too. Because it’s a great way of life,” he said.

That is why he will continue to promote the fishing industry.

“Marc loved fishing, he loved cod fishing in particular and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from getting into fishing. I will promote it with all my heart.”

“We have to make sure we don’t give up on this industry,” he said. “Sometimes standing up and doing things in their honor is more important.”

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