AN INVESTIGATION into the sinking of a fishing boat and the loss of three lives off the coast of Rhos-on-Sea has found that the vessel was “operated in an unsafe manner”.

On January 27, 2021, the whelk potter Nicola Faith capsized and sank 1.9 miles north of Rhos-on-Sea, with the loss of its three crew members.

Carl McGrath, 34, Ross Ballantine 39, and Alan Minard, 20, were aboard when it left Conwy Harbour.

Their bodies were found off Wirral and Blackpool in March 2021, before the boat was located the following the month.

The vessel had been extensively modified during its life, which had significantly reduced its margin of positive stability.

On the day of the accident, the Nicola Faith had been loaded with catch and retrieved strings of pots to the point of instability, which resulted in the capsize and subsequently sinking of the vessel.

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Nicola Faith had not been fitted with a mandatory emergency beacon to alert to the capsize, and it was not reported as overdue until 10am the next day.

Following its salvage by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), a thorough inspection of the vessel was carried out to determine possible modes of capsize and a full assessment of its stability was undertaken.

The key safety issues identified were:

• Nicola Faith was operated in an unsafe manner and was loaded with a combination of catch and retrieved fishing gear to the point of instability.

• A mandatory Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) was not fitted to the vessel and the crew were not equipped with personal locator beacons.

• Nicola Faith was found to have been extensively modified; these modifications had eroded its margin of positive stability.

• Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyors had noted some of the modifications, but the guidance concerning modifications that would have triggered a stability assessment was not sufficiently clear.

• Although available on board, the crew did not routinely wear personal flotation devices.

This report comes a day after a investigation into the Joanna C boat, which sank off the Sussex coast in November 2020, leading to the deaths of two fishermen, was also published.

In the case of Joanna C, it was found the failure of a life raft affected the chances of survival after two men were thrown into the water.

One died, and the other was later rescued, while a third crew member on board Joanna C drowned after being trapped in the sinking boat.

Andrew Moll OBE, chief inspector of Marine Accidents, said: "Yesterday we published our report into the loss of Joanna C, and today are publishing the report into the loss of Nicola Faith.

“Both were small fishing vessels that capsized while working fishing gear and together, tragically, they account for the loss of five lives.

“There are important lessons about stability from these accidents that must be understood and acted upon by all small fishing boat operators.

"The first lesson is that modifications, unless properly planned, can significantly erode a vessel’s margin of stability.

“The scallop dredger Joanna C had been modified, but the process of assessing the effect of the alterations had not been completed before the vessel returned to fishing.

“Unfortunately, the modifications had eroded Joanna C’s stability to the extent that simply snagging a dredge on a string of pots was enough to capsize the vessel.

“Tragically, only one of the three crew survived the accident.

“It is essential that skippers know the limitations of their vessels, and that any modifications to the vessel or changes to fishing methods are properly assessed and approved before fishing resumes.

"The second lesson is that any vessel can become unstable if overloaded. Nicola Faith had been modified, and the modification had not been approved.

“Nonetheless, the vessel could have been operated safely with care.

“On the day of the accident, the crew were relocating their pots to a new area and were carrying a full day’s catch as well.

“The combined weight of the catch and fishing gear piled on deck was far more than the boat was designed to carry; it capsized, and all three crew were lost in that accident.

“Fishermen will always be tempted to land a big catch but moving fishing gear at the same time can be overwhelming.

"As fuel prices soar, the temptation to carry more and do fewer trips makes economic sense, but where stability is concerned the results can be catastrophic.

"Five families’ lives have been shattered by these two accidents, both of which were entirely avoidable.

“To all fishing vessel crews, I have this simple message: safety begins with good stability; know your boat’s limitations, and operate within them."