Fatigue led to NZ fishing ship capsizing

Commercial fishing vessel Jan ran aground January 11th 2016 after a 17-year-old at the helm alone at night for the first time, fell asleep at the wheel after having little sleep in the previous 24 hours, New Zealand investigators have found.

The vessel was lost its owner, Wild Fish (NZ) Limited, was fined NZ$27,200 following prosecution by Maritime NZ.

Maritime NZ Northern Regional Manager Neil Rowarth said that the young helmsman fell asleep soon after going on watch. He had worked a full day, slept for between only one hour and three-and-a-quarter hours, and was then woken to take his turn on watch. He had never before been on watch by himself at night.

After he fell asleep, Jan ran on autopilot and grounded on rocks near Howe Point in the Bay of Islands. The grounding woke the skipper and the other crew. The skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship due to the hull being breached and water ingress. Jan then capsized and was a total loss.

Rowarth said that the prosecution sent a strong message to all maritime operators that they must have an effective system for managing crew fatigue.

“Crew fatigue is real and potentially disastrous for ships and their crew. … It was a matter of luck that this was not a fatal accident”, he said.

In 2011, following the grounding of another of its vessels, Den Bearg, Wild Fish Limited had installed watch alarms on its fleet. Watch alarms sound periodically to prevent a crew member on watch from falling asleep. However, Wild Fish Limited did not inform the crew of Jan that a watch alarm had been installed on the vessel and did not train the skipper or crew to use it.

Maritime NZ told the Court Wild Fish Limited had acted recklessly.

Maritime NZ prosecuted Wild Fish Limited under the Maritime Transport Act, which prohibits “dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products” (section 65). The company pleaded guilty.

Maritime NZ cited some statistics about commercial fishing crew:

  • 28% suffer an injury each year (Neilson survey of workers and employers, 2014)
  • 34% fell asleep at the wheel (Maritime NZ commercial fishing fatigue survey, 2018)
  • 42% made a bad decision (Maritime NZ commercial fishing fatigue survey, 2018)
  • 52% experienced mood swings (Maritime NZ commercial fishing fatigue survey, 2018)
  • 61% of crew report working when overtired (Neilson survey of workers and employers, 2014)

In June last year Maritime NZ and the fishing industry began working together on a three-year safety campaign “Safe crews fish more.”