Nova Scotia

Drowning deaths of N.S. couple highlight need for safety devices on small fishing vessels

The investigation into the drowning deaths of a Port Medway, N.S., couple has highlighted the need for safety devices on small fishing vessels, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Vessel didn't have an emergency alert system or personal flotation devices

Richard Moreau, 58, and his partner, Liz O'Connell, died May 5, 2018, after their boat capsized just off the shore of Port Medway. (Submitted by Kathy Burgess)

The investigation into the drowning deaths of a Port Medway, N.S., couple has highlighted the need for safety devices on small fishing vessels, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Richard Moreau, 58, and his partner, Liz O'Connell, died on May 5, 2018, after their small crabbing boat capsized not far from shore, off Port Medway.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada completed their investigation earlier this month and the report was released Monday.

Chris Morrow, a senior investigator with the Marine Transportation Safety Board, said the individuals weren't wearing personal flotation devices (PFD) at the time of the incident.

The small, fibreglass fishing vessel was not equipped with an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) at the time of the incident. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

"More and more fishermen are using personal flotation devices all the time … but it's still not everyone," Morrow said.

Transport Canada's fishing vessel safety regulations require all individuals aboard an open-deck fishing vessel to wear a PFD at all times, unless there are lifejackets on board.

Morrow said there has been reluctance because fishermen believe the devices can get in the way while they are working.

However, he said the design of PFDs has improved — they are lightweight and can either be manually or automatically inflated when necessary.

The Transportation Safety Board said there has been reluctance from fishermen to wear personal flotation devices like the one above because they believe the devices can get in the way while they are working. (CBC )

"Any PFD that is approved by Transport Canada, they're all going to increase your chances of survival," he said.

Morrow said the boat also didn't have an automatic distress signal nor an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), which sends an alert when a boat is overturned.

Transport Canada doesn't require the small vessels to have an alert system on board, as long as there is a form of two-way communication such as cell phones.

But Morrow said the distress signal could have helped in this case.

"We're not sure exactly how long they went unnoticed. But with something like [an] EPIRB or a personal location device, the sooner someone is notified that something's wrong, they jump into action, and who knows how long they were in the water before anyone realized something had happened," he said.

The report said 19 people have died between February 2010 and May 2018 in Canada after 10 small fishing vessels capsized or sank. These boats did not have an emergency alert system aboard.

Morrow said the Transportation Safety Board has recommended that emergency alert systems be required on small fishing vessels, but regulations haven't been established by Transport Canada.

He also said fishermen are starting to recognize the need for safety devices on boats, but there is still some resistance.

"Right now, it's up to the fishermen themselves. It's the culture.... People don't think it's going to happen to them and they [don't] really appreciate the risks."

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