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TAIC Media Release - Enchanter

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is calling on the Ministry of Transport and Maritime New Zealand to address urgent safety issues for the marine sector nationwide.

The calls come in the Commission’s final report, published today, on a fatal accident in which the charter fishing vessel Enchanter, with eight passengers and two crew on board, capsized off North Cape at dusk on 20 March 2022.

Chief Investigator of Accidents Naveen Kozhuppakalam says the cause of the Enchanter capsize was a catastrophic, unrecoverable knock-down by an unanticipated big wave.

“The wave rolled the vessel in an instant, forcing the superstructure and side windows into the water, exceeded superstructure design parameters. The side windows imploded and the superstructure comprising the main saloon and flybridge separated from the hull, resulting in full capsize. The hull remained inverted but afloat.

The crew activated an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon and the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre initiated a search and rescue response.

“The first rescue helicopter to arrive retrieved five people from the upturned hull and other flotsam. The crew of that first helicopter excelled at the high-risk task of wet winching in the dark over water. Their expertise was instrumental in saving the lives of five people.

“When that helicopter was full of people and left the scene, the survivability clock was ticking for remaining survivors. Their immediate hazards included time in the water, hypothermia, swimming ability; injuries sustained during the capsize; and pre-existing medical conditions. Nobody was wearing a life jacket so they relied mainly on bits of boat for flotation

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“Three of the missing people were alive in the water when last seen by survivors. However, a search and rescue operation involving multiple aircraft and surface vessels took almost two day to find them, by this time deceased.

“Delays in mustering crews delayed deployment of further rescue helicopters. And for 4 hours and 36 minutes, lack of available fuel prevented helicopters searching for the remaining five people in the water. This was partly because fuel supplies were set up for air ambulances, not extended SAR operations in remote areas.

The Commission identified safety issues for search and rescue operations across New Zealand: knowledge and training of personnel; availability of dedicated aircraft; and the effect of fuel availability on helicopter range. All require the immediate attention of the Secretary for Transport, and the Commission has made recommendations accordingly.

The Commission also identified the need to improve maritime rules and regulations for marine surveyors’ professional practice, life jacket stowage, and tracking devices for commercial vessels. All require the immediate attention of the Director of Maritime New Zealand, and the Commission has made recommendations accordingly.

“This report is about more than the tragic accident involving the Enchanter; it is system-wide, nationwide because the safety issues affect everyone on board a commercial or recreational vessel. And everyone on board deserves to be safe.”

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission opens an inquiry when it believes the circumstances of an accident or incident have - or are likely to have - significant implications for transport safety, or when the inquiry may allow the Commission to make findings or recommendations to improve transport safety.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Issues and recommendations for Maritime NZ

Marine surveyors professional practice Vessels could be operating outside maritime rule requirements because Maritime New Zealand’s system for auditing and assessing accredited vessel surveyors doesn’t ensure correct interpretation and application of the rules.

· Recommendation 017/23 (notify surveyors about changes to maritime rules)

· Recommendation 018/23 (intent/application of maritime rules/standards)

Life jacket availability Passengers and crew may be unable to access a life jacket in a sudden catastrophic event. Maritime NZ needs make rules and/or guidance available to marine surveyors and vessel operators about this risk.

· Recommendation 019/23

Tracking devices for commercial vessels: Search and rescue operations could be slow to start and inefficient in the absence of tracking devices. Maritime NZ should require commercial carrying passengers outside inshore limits to be fitted with an automatic identification system or equivalent.

· Recommendation 020/23.

Issues and recommendations for the Ministry of Transport.

Dedicated search and rescue aircraft for remote operations: Lives may be lost if New Zealand’s search and rescue response is inadequate and inefficient due to a lack of aircraft that are fully equipped and crewed for extended SAR operations in remote areas./5.9 MoT should coordinate with other agencies to identify and source air and maritime assets to meet NZ’s full SAR requirements. Consider potential dual uses.

· Recommendation 013/23

Search & rescue personnel – knowledge and training: Good search and rescue operations depend on on-scene coordinators and Rescue Coordination Centre engaging in joint training to work to the same framework and use the same terms./5.11 MoT needs to delegate responsibility for standards for SAR assets and crews, and enter service level agreements for provision of SAR assets.

· Recommendation 012/23 (delegation)

· Recommendation 016/23 (joint training)

Fuel availability - effect on helicopter range: SAR operations could be delayed or prevented if SAR coordinating authorities don’t know and don’t understand national availability of fuel for extended helicopter SAR operations in remote areas./5.13 MoT should identify opportunities for supply and storage of fuel and maintain a database of stored fuel and fuel supply logistics. MoT and SAR coordinators should have procedures for asking helicopter operators about their maximum range and opportunities for refuelling for sustained SAR operations.

· Recommendation 014/23 (fuel supply logistics)

· Recommendation 015/23 (working with operators)

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