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Mi Jay loss shows importance of regular reports

6 JUNE 2008

Mi Jay loss highlights importance of regular trip reports

The loss of the Mi Jay and her crew may have been avoided had her owner maintained regular radio contact with the vessel and reported her missing much sooner, a Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) report concludes.

The Mi Jay departed Nelson on a fishing expedition on 22 November 2005, carrying a skipper and two crew. It had enough fuel and supplies for14 days, but had been expected to return to Nelson sooner. Apart from a phone call by the skipper the next day, the Mi Jay was never heard from again. The two crew were found dead drifting in the Mi Jay’s liferaft on19 December, almost a month after she departed Nelson and two days after the official search was suspended. The skipper’s body was never found.

“The tragedy is that this accident may have been avoided had the owner established a regular communications schedule with the vessel’s crew before departure,” MNZ Deputy Director of Safety and Response Services, Peter Williams said. “This would not only have let those on shore know that things were okay, but would have also meant that when things did go wrong, rescuers would have had critical information about where to begin the search.”

MNZ’s report says that despite the skipper being new to the vessel, its owner, Warwick Loader of Nelson, had no firm idea of her destination and failed to maintain any contact with the Mi Jay. It was not until 14 days after the vessel left Nelson – when her supplies were due to run out – that he finally alerted the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) that she was missing.

“Despite a massive search over 11 days, efforts were seriously hampered by the delay in the owner notifying RCCNZ that the Mi Jay was overdue, along with a lack of information about her intended destination or planned route,” Mr Williams said. “Had RCCNZ been provided with this vital information when searching for the Mi Jay, lives could have been saved.”

“Based on analysis of the liferaft, it’s likely the crew were drifting for at least three weeks before being found. It’s also likely they survived for up to two weeks while the search was underway. Had the liferaft been fitted with an emergency beacon, or had the owner kept in regular contact with the vessel and raised the alarm much sooner, then they would have had a far greater chance of rescue.”

Mr Williams said lessons learned from the accident had resulted in a concerted education campaign promoting the importance of regular radio schedules and trip reporting to vessel owners and masters.

Mr Loader and his company, Crusader Fisheries Ltd, were found guilty in April 2007 of “operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk” under charges brought by MNZ. Mr Loader was sentenced to 350 hours' community service. An appeal against the conviction was unsuccessful.

- ENDS -


N.B: These are not listed in order of importance

- The Owner failed to maintain contact with his vessel after she departed Nelson, despite the fact that the Skipper was new to the vessel and the owner had no firm idea of the vessel’s destination or for how long she would be away.

- The Owner stated that he bought stores for the vessel that would last for about 10 days; he said that if the crew used the canned goods already on board that there was sufficient food for about 14 days. It was on this basis that he called RCCNZ on the fourteenth day after the vessel’s departure, although, barring any unexpected problems, he had expected the vessel to return to port after about a week.

- Based on the information gained during the analysis of the life raft, it is likely that the raft was in the water for at least 21 days, possibly up to 28 days. The pathology report suggests that Mr James and Mr Tawhiti died seven to ten days before the raft was found, so would have been alive for about 11 to 14 days while RCCNZ conducted the search. If the alarm had been raised earlier and if RCCNZ had the last known position of Mi Jay, then the three crew would have had a far greater chance of rescue.

- There are no survivors or signs of any wreckage/equipment from Mi Jay, which might assist in determining the factors which contributed to the disappearance of this vessel. It is unknown whether bad weather may have been a factor although a vessel such as Mi Jay, should have been able to withstand the weather conditions prevailing at the time.

- The lack of instruction or understanding by the Owner as to exactly where Mi Jay was to fish, made it extremely difficult to locate the vessel, any wreckage or equipment or, as it turned out, the life raft. The fact that no distress message was ever received from the vessel, either by VHF/SSB radio or an EPIRB, suggests that the vessel may have become overwhelmed by a sudden catastrophic event. If the crew had had time to raise the alarm before abandoning the vessel, it is possible that other vessels in the vicinity and Maritime Radio would have heard them, which would have increased the likelihood for rescue of surviving crew members.

- The Skipper was not appropriately qualified for the operation proposed. The vessel was not equipped with a 406 MHz EPIRB as required by the Maritime Rules.

- While it seems likely that the vessel was overwhelmed by a catastrophic event during the week of 23 to 30 November 2005, it is not possible to identify any particular cause or causes of the apparent sinking.

- The possibility of Mi Jay being in collision with another vessel cannot be excluded. However, if this had occurred, one would have expected some signs of wreckage from the vessel to be visible and possibly a notification from the other vessel that such an event had occurred. In respect of a large vessel, however, particularly in the prevailing weather conditions, the force of any impact might not have been readily apparent. No sightings of any equipment or fittings from the vessel other than the life raft have been reported.

- The two most likely scenarios are that the vessel foundered either in or near to Cook Strait, or the vessel reached either Mernoo Bank or Maori Acre areas and foundered. The drift analyses backtrack that was completed from where the life raft was found, suggests an area that fits both these possible scenarios.

- The vessel’s Safe Ship Management Certificate was due to expire shortly after the vessel departed port.

- In September 1999, following the loss of the fishing vessel Endeavour II with the loss of all hands, the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) issued a Marine Notice (No. 04/1999), which recommended that Skippers give serious consideration to voluntarily reporting their positions, courses and speeds at the same time each day to a nominated person ashore. Also, to establish a procedure for the nominated person to follow should a vessel fail to make contact within a scheduled reporting period. The Notice recommended that a broadcast signal on VHF or HF was preferable to telephone calls because of their ability to reach more than one receiver simultaneously. In the case of Endeavour II, there was a delay of 44 hours before she was reported overdue. The Notice also recommended the carriage of a "float off" 406kHz EPIRB, which would alert authorities in the event of a sudden accident.

- If the vessel had been equipped with an EPIRB in the life raft then this tragedy may well have been averted. Secondly, if the Owner/Skipper had followed the procedures for reporting the vessel’s position as set out in the SSM Manual, or if the vessel had been fitted with a simplified VMS a search could have been narrowed down to the last known position of the vessel.


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