By Kenneth Smith

COMMERCIAL fishing is the most dangerous industry in this country, as in many others. It has been estimated that our fishermen (and women) are 110 times more likely to lose their lives at work than the average employee in other occupations. Worldwide, and taking account of subsistence fisheries in developing countries, around 24,000 lives are lost annually in fishing accidents (Lloyd’s Register Foundation Insight Report, June 2018).

The Herald last week carried news of a tragic accident in the Barents Sea, in which the capsize of a Russian trawler resulted in the loss of 17 of the crew ("Search for crew after fishing trawler capsizes", Deecmber 29). Early reports of the tragedy suggest that ice accumulation caused the vessel to become top-heavy. It was estimated that the sea temperature would have been as low as -30C, making survival virtually impossible.

Catastrophic accidents with fishing vessels can be the result of several adverse factors acting together to produce the final result. In the case of the Russian vessel Onega, it seems that ice growth on the vessel’s superstructure was the principal cause of the disaster. Excessive top weight carried on board will result in capsize and sinking, and clearly this factor deserves close study during the entirety of the voyage. Many factors can change while the vessel is at sea, including consumption of fuel and water, ingress of water to the hull, the free surface effect of water trapped on deck, cargo shifting and ice growth. In addition, fishing vessels are vulnerable since they load their cargo in mid-ocean, with hatches and doors open.

Since many will read only occasionally of fishing vessel losses, the regular readers of our daily newspapers could be forgiven for assuming that losses of boats are rare events. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since late-November, we have noted several vessels lost at sea including Joanna C in the English Channel (two lives lost), Emmy Rose from Portland, Maine (four lives lost), and Chief William Saulis from Nova Scotia (six lives lost).

With these accidents, no mayday messages were broadcast, and it appears that the vessels suffered stability loss leading to rapid capsize.

The current proposal for a new Code of Practice for under-15m fishing vessels has been launched by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), and is currently at the consultation phase. The code calls for vessel stability to be measured before a vessel leaves port; however, this really will assess only static factors such as vessel configuration or modification. Stability loss on board should be tracked while the vessel is at sea. This is where the dynamic factors mentioned above come into play, leading so often to loss of the vessel and its crew. It is to be hoped that measurement of stability at sea will be included in the final publication of the code.

Although marine safety is the concern of the MCA, it would be prudent for the Scottish Government to review this matter in detail, in view of the importance of coastal and deep-sea fishing to Scottish communities.

Kenneth Smith is a Chartered Engineer, and Director of Hook Marine Ltd