Nova Scotia

Fishermen urged to run safety drills in wake of death investigation

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has finished its investigation into the 2015 death of Keith Stubbert off southwest Nova Scotia.

Transportation Safety Board concludes examination of how Keith Stubbert died off Nova Scotia coast

Keith Stubbert was on the Cock-a-Wit Lady on Nov. 30, 2015, when he went overboard and died. (Transportation Safety Board)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says the crew on board a Nova Scotia fishing boat could have done more to prepare for potential emergencies, and that lack of planning may have played a role in the death of one of their own. 

Keith Stubbert, a 53-year-old fisherman from Cape Breton, was dragged overboard from the Cock-a-Wit Lady and died during the first day of lobster season in southwestern Nova Scotia on Nov. 30, 2015.

In a report released Thursday, the safety board said the crew of the ship hadn't ever conducted safety drills and didn't have a system for on-board risk management, such as meetings to identify safety risks.

"If vessel operators do not conduct drills that provide an opportunity for the crew to identify shortcomings in emergency response situations, such as a person overboard, there is a risk that fishermen will not be able to respond to an emergency effectively," the agency said in a news release.

Stubbert, 53, was from Cape Breton. (Facebook)

The safety board works to identify the causes and contributing factors involved with transportation incidents. It does not assign fault or determine criminal liability.  

As the crew of the Cock-a-Wit Lady were dumping traps off the coast of Clarks Harbour, the traps got caught in the guard rail on the port side. Stubbert went to free them and while doing so stepped into coils of rope attached to the traps, according to the safety board's findings. 

When he freed the trap it quickly went over the stern. He was hauled overboard and into the water by the weight and momentum of the traps, said the safety board. 

The man who died became tangled in rope that was attached to lobster traps. (CBC)

The crew tried to use their trap hauler to pull their crewmate back  on board. The combined weight of the traps and the deckhand, along with the angle of the rope against the ship, caused the line to part.

The crew lost the end of the line so they navigated the boat to pick up the other end of the rope attached to the lobster traps. The crew used that rope to haul the man up. By the time he was brought on board he had been in the water for 10 minutes and could not be resuscitated.

New regulations on the way

The Nova Scotia Occupational Safety General Regulations and other rules are in place to keep fishermen safe, according to the safety board, but there are still problems. 

"Gaps remain with respect to, among other things, unsafe operating practices and crew training," it said in a news release.   

Transport Canada's new fishing vessel safety regulations will come into force July 13, 2017. Under these rules small fishing boats will be required to have written safety procedures and familiarize all people on board with those procedures.

The regulations also require safety drills be performed, including how to rescue someone who falls overboard. Records are to be kept of every drill, said the Transportation Safety Board.