Incorrect assumptions on vessels’ self-righting ability partly to blame for deaths

Two men operating a high-speed pilot boat who were killed on December 8th 2017 when their pilot boat capsized off the coast of the southern city of Porvoo, Finland in choppy waters might have had too much confidence in their vessel’s self-righting abilities, a report into the incident has found.

General information about the stability of pilot boats in choppy water was misleading, the Finnish Safety Investigation Authority (FSIA) said.

The fact that the boat capsized in a storm apparently came as a surprise to people working in the field, as they had widely assumed that the boats in question were self-righting.

“Insufficient account had been taken of the risk of losing stability and capsizing in strong waves. It is generally assumed that pilot boats are self-righting and safe in all circumstances, for which reason the capsize was unexpected. At the time of the capsize, the direction of the waves and their greater height and steepness created fatal and unexpected conditions for the pilot boat. The rescue operations were impeded by darkness and the weather”, the report found.

FSIA director Pekka Nurmi said that “the assumption was that pilot boats are safe in all maritime conditions. However, in the conditions that were in force at the time, the boat’s self-righting power was insufficient to correct the tipped vessel”.

The weather was very stormy at the time of the incident. The authority determined that the direction, height and strength of the heavy swells at sea created an unexpected threat to the pilot boat, with fatal consequences.

At the time of incident the pilot boat and two workers from the Finnpilot company had been on their way to pick up another pilot boat from an incoming tanker sailing under the Norwegian flag.

The report found that at first, the L-242 model boat fell on its side, and then it flipped over. The first Border Guard rescue team reached the site half an hour after the boat overturned, but the rough weather at sea prevented them from helping.

The L-242 model boat eventually sank and a diving team later found two bodies in the cabin. There was only one door out of the cabin, towards the stern of the boat.

“The pressure of water pushed the men farther back into the cabin, and there was no other way out,” said FSIA director Risto Haimila.

Because of the findings of the investigation the FSIA will issue five new safety recommendations. It also recommended that the Finnish Transport Safety Agency draw up guidelines for professional boats that would take the special requirements of the different vessels and conditions into consideration. It also advised the Finnpilot Pilotage company to map out more comprehensively potential danger situations and deviations from the safety norms, and to increase the level of overall training for its boat personnel.