Boat sinking unexplained

By Esther Hayden

Published 21/07/2015 | 00:00

Molly's Quest after the salvage operation and, below, the dredging cage lifting winch.
Molly's Quest after the salvage operation and, below, the dredging cage lifting winch.

a report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board into the sinking of the MFV Molly's Quest in Rosslare last year was unable to determine why the boat sank.

The report outlined how at 6.35am on the morning of July 15, 2015, MFV Molly's Quest set off from Rosslare Harbour with three crew members on board to go razor fishing north of the harbour.

The weather conditions were good with light winds and a slight sea state. After eight hours of fishing the vessel experienced minor mechanical issues when the gear cable of the main engine broke at 4.30pm. Shortly after the mechanical issues were temporarily rectified, the vessel began to heel excessively to port and sank. The crew abandoned ship and were picked up a short time later by two other razor-fishing vessels operating in the area. All three crew members were saved and didn't need any medical attention.

The report said MFV Molly's Quest sank almost instantly.

On August 19, 2014, the boat was recovered by a local salvage firm in approximately four meters of water.

The hull was found to be generally in good condition, with no large impact marks or obvious signs of cracks in welds. The steel coatings inside and outside were in good condition.

The rudder and propeller were both damaged, but the salvage company confirmed that this was done during the recovery processes. The dredging cage was not aboard the vessel, but the salvage company reported that another dive team had removed it in a previous attempt to recover the vessel.

The vessel's two deck hatches were found to have good seals and good securing arrangements. However, these securing arrangements were found to be undone on both hatch covers. The wheelhouse door was no longer on the vessel, most probably lost during the period that the vessel remained on the seabed or during salvage.

The wheelhouse itself was found to be structurally sound, but the equipment and console had all shifted, with much of it on the floor and in the forward compartment. The portside wheelhouse window was found in the wheelhouse space. The glass was unbroken, suggesting that it probably came out as a result of hydrostatic pressure rather than impact from waves. The main engine controls were found to be non-functional.

While the throttle was working, the lever could not select gear. Upon inspection, the gear cable was found to be very stiff, probably broken mid line, making it very difficult to change the gear selector position at the gearbox. After removing the gear cable from the gearbox, the gear selector on the gearbox was found to travel easily between gears. The functionality of the gearbox could not be tested, as the gearbox is hydraulic and required oil pressure to function.

The engine seacocks and pump piping were found to be watertight with no sign of damage.

The dredge gantry appeared to be at least three to four years old as there were several layers of paint on it,

The lifting cables for the dredging cage were found wound up on the winch reels and the lifting cable had been disconnected from the cage. A study of the historic weather data showed that on the day of the incident the weather was good with moderate to light winds, westerly to southwest in direction, between Force three and four. This wind direction was offshore for the vessel's area of operation resulting in slight seas.

On November 8, 2014, the vessel was re-floated for a roll test. The vessel was rolled in a lightships condition with the dredging cage re-attached. During the test no water ingress was noted. The skipper and crew members were interviewed during the investigation and said that the vessel was travelling in a northerly direction on normal fishing operations and in the process of lifting the dredging cage when the main engine gear control cable broke. Shortly after the vessel was taken out of gear, the vessel turned sharply to the west and began to heel heavily before it sank.

The report went on to say that the MFV Molly's Quest had passed an inspection 13 months prior to the incident.

A roll test demonstrated that the vessel's hull was watertight, ruling out the possibility that flooding led to a large free surface causing a sudden reduction in stability. The dredging cage lifting cables were found rolled up on the winch, indicating that the dredging cage was above the surface at the time of the incident and therefore it could not have become fast on the seabed.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board found that on examination of the recovered vessel there was evidence as to why the vessel capsized. Interviews with the skipper and crew could shed no further light to the cause of capsize. The actual cause of the sinking is undetermined.

The report didn't make any safety recommendations.

A letter from the Rosslare Harbour Master to the Marine Casualty Investigation Board wondered if it were in the remit of the board to 'examine probably causes and dthe hunam element when reacting to the loss of stability' saying 'such an examination might create greater safety awareness afloat'. The harbour master said that between July 2014 and February 2015 two separate incidents occurred where vessels engaged in razor fishing sank noting that 'two sinkings in seven months is of concern'.

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