Nfld. & Labrador

Melina and Keith II sinking report urges reform

The Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the sinking of the Melina and Keith II, a long liner that went down in September 2005, stating current safety regulations in the fishing industry need to change.

Ship was unstable, precious time lost before rescue

The Transportation Safety Board released its report Thursday on the sinking of the Melina and Keith II, a longliner that went down in September 2005 off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, stating current safety regulations in the fishing industry need to change.

The board's report addresses several issues it says contributed to the fatal accident that day, including the structure of the vessel and slow response time from a rescue helicopter.

It says there were major modifications done to the ship in 2000 that adversely affected its stability, making it easier tocapsize, and neither Transport Canada nor the owners of the vessel requested stability tests after the modifications.

The day the Melina and Keith II sank off Bonavista, it was heavily loaded with fish and shrimp. As the crew was hauling turbot nets through a starboard hatch, water from the choppy seas was washing over the men and the deck.

The water pumps on the boat couldn't keep up with the flow and the ship rolled over.

Only the captain of the vessel managed to get into a survival suit. The rest of the crew didn't even have life-jackets on.

Four men drowned, and four others were later plucked from the sea.

Precious time lost before sinking

The crew spent two hours on the overturned ship before it sank and another two hours in the water before help arrived.

The report saysthat afterit was clear the vessel might be in trouble, the coast guard waited almost an hour and 20 minutes to ask for a rescue helicopter, precious time that was lost while trying to determine if the ship was indeed at sea. The board said better emergency contact information should be required for vessels.

After the Cormorant rescue helicopter was requested, it took another hour and 20 minutes to get it in the air.

A fishing vessel dispatched by the coast guard eventually rescued four survivors.

Past mistakes

The coast guard received an emergency signal from the Melina and Keith's emergency indicator device, the day it went down. But the coast guard said it was having trouble getting a location on the fishing boat, which caused the delay in rescue. Without a position, the coast guard maintains, it could not order the Department of National Defence helicopter to respond.

Two months after the accident, CBC News learned that a critical piece of technology, whichmay have allowed the coast guard to locate the boat more quickly, simply wasn't checked.

The coast guard admitted it made a mistake in not checking the vessel monitoring system, or VMS, a piece of technology that could have located the vessel in moments.

Mary Connolly lost her brother on the Melina and Keith. She says she still wants to see one major change in rescue operations.

"We have paramedics out there, we have ambulances that can come at the drop of a hat," Connolly said. "Why aren't search and rescue ready? Why aren't people on standby?

"They didn't die for nothing. What we want to see now is improvements to the system."

Currently, helicopter crews are on standby in the hangars during the day and can be in the air in 30 minutes, but at night the crew must be called in from home, and it can take up to two hours to get in the air.

The Transportation Safety Board's report says making the use of life-jackets by fishing crews mandatory would save lives.

Margaret Dyke, whose son Bernard survived the accident, said she is happy the recommendations have finally come through.

"I think it's a good thing now that it's done, but I think it's something that should have been done years ago," Dyke said. She also agrees with the recommendation that a more practically designed life-jacket is needed for fishermen to wear while working at sea.

The board's report also says there needs to be improvements in how life rafts are stored on board.

In September, the father of one of the fishermen killed filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming it was negligent in the rescue.

Meanwhile, the captain of the vessel is being prosecuted for eight charges laid under the Canada Shipping Act. The charges include failing to ensure that certified crew members were watching the bridge and that they were properly trained to use the life-saving equipment. His trial is expected to resume in January.