By Tina Comeau
The loss of life from fishing vessels weighs heavily on the minds of those at the Transportation Safety Board (TSB).
And while family and friends mourn the loss of this life, TSB investigators work to see if there is anything that can be learned and implemented to save lives and to spare another family from this type pain.
“Our job is to investigate an accident and determine if there are any safety deficiencies and make recommendations to prevent the accident from happening again, that’s all we do,” says Pierre Murray, the TSB manager of regional operations for marine in the Atlantic Provinces. In other words, the TSB’s role is not to assign blame or to determine civil or criminal liability. It’s just about safety.
Which is why two days after 20-year-old Mike Doucette of Wedgeport fell overboard from the vessel Row Row – and he was not found despite an extensive search – two TSB investigators travelled to Wedgeport. They spoke with the crew of the vessel and examined the fishing boat, collecting information on its construction and the vessel’s history. And they gathered other information that they felt might be useful.
“We’re going to go over all this and try to see if there were any safety problems that could be resolved that could prevent that from happening in some other places,” says Murray.
“The loss of life from fishing vessels is something that is on the Transportation Safety Board’s watch list.”
This isn’t to say there are recommendations from every incident.
“You could have a case where it’s a freak accident, something that is one in a million. Well, for one in a million are you going to go and spend time and effort to prevent that from happening again? Maybe not,” Murray says. “But if it’s something unsafe that you see occurring everyday on all of the boats, you want to put in the time and effort to try and fix the problem.
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“Could that happen on the other thousands of boats in the Maritimes? If the answer is yes than we’re going to try and push something through,” he says.
According to its website, the TSB issued its first recommendation on the subject of improved fishing vessel safety in 1992. Since then it has issued 41 more recommendations.
Still, between 2006 and 2012 there were around 420 marine accidents reported, 40 per cent of which involved fishing vessels. An investigation into fishing safety in Canada revealed an average of 13 fatalities per year between 1999 and 2010. Safety deficiencies that the TSB has identified over the years because of fishing vessels incidents that have resulted in fatalities have included vessel stability, crew training, unsafe operating practices and the carriage immersion suits.
Asked who is responsible for seeing that recommendations are put into action, Murrays says it varies.
“Depending on the accident and depending on the safety deficiency, we look at who is in the best place to really make sure that all recommendations are being listened to and put into effect. Sometimes it’s Transport Canada, other time maybe the industry itself, sometimes maybe the community.”
The timeframe in which reports are filled also varies. In the case of the Jan. 12 Wedgeport incident, no timeframe was attached to investigation that started last week.