Early Communication, Fast Action, Aids Rescue of Fishing Vessel Crew


WASHINGTON (May 25, 2021) — Fast crew reaction and early communication with the U.S. Coast Guard prevented any fatalities or serious injuries when the fishing vessel Rebecca Mary sank while under way last year, the National Transportation Safety Board said in Marine Accident Brief 21/12 released Tuesday.

Around 4 a.m. on June 17, 2020, after a bilge alarm sounded, a deckhand noticed the port aft corner of the fish-laden vessel was taking waves over the gunwale, or upper edge of the vessel’s side. Seawater was accumulating on the aft deck - and over the top of the hatch to the lazarette, the aft-most under-deck compartment. The hatch was equipped with a cover that could not be latched closed.


 (The Rebecca Mary underway, in this this undated photo, before it flooded and sank June 17, 2020. Photo courtesy of Mike Roderick)

With the situation deteriorating, the crew quickly donned their survival suits. At 4:09 a.m., the captain made a distress call to the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 and activated the emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB. While pumping seawater from the aft spaces, the captain also provided several radio updates. At the same time, the crew monitored the seawater level on the working deck, which “kept creeping up” as the vessel’s stern sank deeper in the water. The captain stated that he was unable to access the lazarette hatch but believed the hatch cover was gone.

Because the vessel could not be examined after the sinking, it is unknown if there were any hull failures or other areas of water entry prior to the time the deckhand noticed sea water coming in.

Shortly after 5 a.m., with the vessel sinking by the stern, the crew tied the vessel’s life raft to the portside handrail and threw its canister overboard. The life raft inflated successfully. But almost immediately afterward, the Rebecca Mary rolled over to port. During the roll, the vessel’s rigging tore into the life raft, instantly deflating it and forcing all crewmembers into the water in their survival suits. Once in the water, they locked arms and waited. Just minutes later, at 5:07 a.m., a Coast Guard helicopter arrived on scene. By 5:59 a.m. all four crewmembers were at Air Station Cape Cod.

“Early communication with the Coast Guard and preparing to abandon ship by donning survival suits or personal flotation devices when experiencing significant flooding, fire or other emergencies increases the likelihood of survival,’’ the report said. “When deploying life rafts and other life-saving appliances, crews should attempt to launch and/or inflate in areas clear of obstructions.”

Marine Accident Brief 21/12 is available at https://go.usa.gov/x6ccY

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).