Fishing boat which capsized was operated in ‘unsafe manner’, report finds

Carl McGrath, Ross Ballantine and Alan Minard, from North Wales, died when the Nicola Faith went down suddenly in January 2021.

The wreck of the Nicola Faith
The wreck of the Nicola Faith

A fishing boat which sank with three crew on board was being operated in an “unsafe manner” and capsized after it was loaded to the point of instability, a report has found.

Carl McGrath, 34, Ross Ballantine, 39, and Alan Minard, 20, were on board the Nicola Faith when it left Conwy in North Wales on January 27 last year, and their bodies were found off Wirral and Blackpool in March.

The boat was recovered from the sea off Colwyn Bay by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

Wreck of the Nicola Faith
The wreck of the sunken fishing boat Nicola Faith was recovered from the sea off Colwyn Bay in North Wales (Department for Transport/PA)

An accident investigation report published by the MAIB on Thursday found it was likely the crew were trapped on board when the vessel capsized suddenly.

The report said: “It is almost certain that Nicola Faith capsized because it was loaded with catch and pots to the point of instability, and that it capsized suddenly with little warning.”

The MAIB found that the vessel was “habitually operated in an unsafe manner”, despite the skipper, Mr McGrath, having experienced at least two near-capsize events when the boat was heavily loaded before.

The report also found that a mandatory Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) was not fitted to the vessel, and the crew did not routinely wear personal flotation devices.

Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents Andrew Moll said: “Nicola Faith had been modified, and the modification had not been approved.

“Nonetheless, the vessel could have been operated safely with care.

“On the day of the accident, the crew were relocating their pots to a new area and were carrying a full day’s catch as well.

“The combined weight of the catch and fishing gear piled on deck was far more than the boat was designed to carry. It capsized, and all three crew were lost in that accident.

“Fishermen will always be tempted to land a big catch but moving fishing gear at the same time can be overwhelming.

“As fuel prices soar, the temptation to carry more and do fewer trips makes economic sense, but where stability is concerned the results can be catastrophic.”

A safety flyer has been issued to the fishing industry following the report, and recommendations were made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to revise guidance in the Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Fishing Vessels.

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