Design led to Ryan's Commander disaster: report

Vessel design and handling caused the capsizing of the Ryan's Commander that claimed the lives of two Newfoundland fishermen, a report concludes.

Vessel design and poor handlingcausedthe capsizing of the Ryan's Commander that claimed the lives of two Newfoundland fishermen, a federal report concludes.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada alsofound that communications between two federal departments remains so strained that crew safety is at risk.

Brothers Joe and Dave Ryan died when their vesseloverturned offCape Bonavistaon Sept. 19,2004, only months after it was completed. Four men escaped the disaster.

"Not enough attention was paid to the stability of the Ryan's Commander. The result was a vessel with limited stability and compromised safety," safety baord chair Wendy Tadros told reporters Monday in St. John's.

Tadros said the Ryan's Commander was built with competing design goals in mind: coming within the 65-foot (nearly 20-metre) limit set for midsize vessels by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the 150-tonne limit set by Transport Canada for a vessel to fit within small vessel regulations.

Tadros said while weather and operation played roles in the accident, TSB investigators emphasized the vessel's design and the lack of a full stability assessment.

"They are at the heart of this accident," Tadros told reporters Monday.

No one— including the ship's owners, its builders, the naval architect and Transport Canada— fully understood problems with the vessel's stability,board investigatorsfound.

"Fishing is a competitive industry— we all know that," she said, referring to how the vessel was designed to have boosted capacity while meeting limits imposed by the different departments, neither of which is ultimately responsible for the safety of fishing crews.

"When you put these goals together, owners, builders [and] regulators must be very careful to ensure that stability is not compromised," Tadros said.

The report found Transport Canadaand the DFOdo not have "effective co-operation," meaning "the fisheries continue to be managed in an environment that does not fully address fishing vessel safety concerns, and crews continue to be placed at undue risk."

Family suing, alleging safety issues

Survivors of the Ryan brothers recently filed suit against the federal government and the makers of the vessel, arguing its design was unsafe and untrustworthy.

"There [were] just enough loopholes that a 65-footer just sailed right through it, and a $1.8-million coffin happened," Johanna Ryan Guy, a sister of the Ryan brothers, told CBC News last month.

In a statement, federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said the two departments signed an agreement a month ago designed to strengthen vessel safety. Transport Canada, he said, has already begun acting on recommendations released in the board's interim report.

"We must never forget that this story is first and foremost a personal tragedy," Hearn's statement said.

Hearn said he has directed DFO staff to "ensure all fisheries management decisions are reviewed from a safety point of view and that safety considerations are included in the development of fisheries management plans."