NTSB Again Calls for Marine Personal Locator Beacons After Sinking of the Fishing Vessel Emmy Rose


Emmy Rose under way on an unknown date before the casualty. (Source: Coast Guard)

​Emmy Rose under way on an unknown date before the casualty. (Source: Coast Guard)​

​The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday the fishing vessel Emmy Rose likely capsized in 2020 after seawater collected on the aft deck and flooded into the vessel through deck hatches that were not watertight. The four crewmembers were not found and are presumed dead. 

NTSB investigators also found that two freeing ports, designed to drain water, were closed. That caused the vessel to list starboard, further reducing the Emmy Rose’s already compromised stability.

Although investigators could not definitively determine the source of initial flooding, it most likely began through the lazarette hatch’s cover, which did not have securing mechanisms and therefore could not be made watertight. That allowed following seas—seawater that flows in the same direction as the vessel—and accumulating water on deck to flood down into the lazarette, a compartment below the deck in the aft end of a vessel. 

​As a result of the investigation, NTSB recommended that the United States Coast Guard increase the scope of commercial fishing vessel safety examinations to include inspection of a vessel’s freeing port cover design to determine whether the covers are constructed to allow water to readily flow outboard, as intended, and not inboard. A second recommendation was to also include inspection of a vessel’s hatch covers to determine whether they are watertight and have adequate securing mechanisms.

NTSB also reiterated an earlier safety recommendation to the Coast Guard to require all vessel personnel be provided with a personal locator beacon (PLB). NTSB issued that recommendation following the sinking of the cargo vessel El Faro in 2015 in which all 33 crewmembers perished. NTSB also reiterated the recommendation after the fishing vessel Scandies Rose sank off Sutwik Island, Alaska, in 2019. Two of the vessel’s crewmembers were rescued; the other five were never found. NTSB concluded in both investigations that personal locator beacons would have aided search and rescue operations by providing continuously updated and correct coordinates of crewmembers’ locations. The recommendation remains open. 

“It shouldn’t take three marine tragedies to recognize the vital importance of personal locator beacons,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “Given their wide availability and relatively low cost, I urge all fishing vessel operators to provide crewmembers with PLBs today—don’t wait for a mandate from the Coast Guard. If the Emmy Rose crew had access to these devices, perhaps some of them would still be with us today.” 

​(Emmy Rose final vessel monitoring system (VMS) track and emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) position. Source: Google Maps)

​Improving fishing vessel safety remains a priority for the NTSB and is on the NTSB’s 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

After departing Portland, Maine, on Nov. 17, 2020, the four crewmembers aboard the 82-foot-long commercial fishing vessel Emmy Rose fished for five days in the Gulf of Maine. On November 22, the captain notified a seafood distribution facility in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that they had assorted groundfish to offload and expected to arrive the following morning.

In the early morning hours of November 23, the Coast Guard in Boston received and responded to a distress signal from the vessel. The Coast Guard searched more than 2,200 square miles over a 38-hour period, but the vessel had sunk. The vessel was declared a total loss valued at $325,000. As the lead agency for the investigation, the Coast Guard convened a formal marine casualty investigation and worked closely with NTSB. The Coast Guard completed a Report of Investigation in June 2022.

Using side scan sonar, the Emmy Rose was located on May 19, 2021, about 3.5 miles west of its last known position, at a depth of 794 feet. A remotely operated vehicle survey, conducted in September 2021, confirmed the location of the Emmy Rose wreckage and examined the vessel for visible damage.

NTSB investigators found that at the time of the sinking, the Emmy Rose likely did not meet existing stability criteria, making it more susceptible to capsizing. The return course toward Gloucester subjected the vessel to winds and seas that likely resulted in the accumulation of seawater on the aft working deck.

NTSB determined the probable cause of the sinking of the Emmy Rose was a sudden loss of stability (capsizing) caused by water collecting on the aft deck and subsequent flooding through deck hatches, which were not watertight or weathertight because they had covers that did not have securing mechanisms, contrary to the vessel’s stability instructions and commercial fishing vessel regulations.


​(Side scan sonar image of the Emmy Rose from 246 feet above. Source: MIND Technologies)​​

​​Marine Investigation Report 22/21​ is available online. The public docket for the investigation contains more than 1,300 pages of factual information, including interview transcripts, photographs and other investigative materials.

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).