Investigation of fishing boat fire concludes

HALIFAX: The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada said it is no longer investigating last week’s sinking of a fishing vessel off the coast of Cape Breton.

Pierre Murray, manager of Atlantic regional operations with the TSB, confirmed on September 17 that they did a preliminary assessment of the incident, including interviewing witnesses, and they determined no further action was required.

“When it came to launching the life raft, search and rescue, everything else worked fine so there’s not much else we can do in this case,” he noted.

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The TSB determined that the fire started around the boat’s exhaust compartment and was extinguished, only to reignite as the boat was returning to port.

“There was some fire that came out from around the exhaust and it went thorugh the wall, through the ceiling and up,” Murray explained.

Major Mark Gough, Senior Public Affairs Officer with Maritime Forces Atlantic, explained that on September 10, at approximately 8:30 p.m., the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax was advised that the Sulia’n, a 45-foot fishing vessel from We’koqma’q First Nation with three people onboard, was on fire approximately 50 nautical miles northeast of Sydney.

Maj. Gough said the marine vessel San Alessio and Marine Atlantic Ferry Leif Ericson responded to the mayday and proceeded to the area. The Canadian Coast Guard ship Spindrift, a Canadian Armed Forces Cormorant helicopter and a Hercules aircraft were also dispatched.

Marine Atlantic spokesperson Darrell Mercer explained that around 10 p.m. the Leif Ericson was contacted by the JRCC to advise there was a fishing vessel in distress.

“The Leif Ericson happened to be the closest vessel to them at that time,” Mercer noted.

At approximately 10:20 p.m., Maj. Gough said the Hercules aircraft arrived on the scene, spotted a life raft in the water and observed that the fishing vessel was on fire.

By approximately 10:35 p.m., Maj. Gough said the Leif Ericson arrived and immediately launched two rescue boats. They recovered the three people from the life raft and transported them back to the ferry. The ferry continued to Port aux Basques, its destination port, with the three individuals onboard, Maj. Gough pointed out.

“When they got there, the vessel was completely engulfed in flames… so the three gentlemen, the crew members of the fishing vessel, were in the water in their survival suits when the Lief Ericson arrived,” Mercer stated on September 11. “The estimate was about an hour-and-a-half that the gentlemen were in the water. Once our fast vessel Crash brought them on board, they were obviously cold. One of the gentlemen was checked out at the hospital in Port Aux Basques and released this morning.”

The TSB noted that after the life raft was launched, it was blown toward the bow of the vessel from where the smoke was billowing.

“When that happened , they tried to bring the life raft back so they could get in it but it was hooked on the bow of the vessel,” Murray said. “They couldn’t really go where the life raft was because of the smoke there. That’s why they ended up in the water.”

“The last view of the Sulia’n was that it was still on fire and adrift,” Major Gough confirmed on September 11. “[The] Canadian Coast Guard will conduct an environmental response to the vessel.”

The next day, Mercer said the crew members were taken from Port Aux Basques to Marine Atlantic’s North Sydney terminal by the Leif Ericson.