During a severe storm at 22:00 one October in 2008, the U.S. flagged fishing vessel Katmai lost steering in Alaska’s Bering Sea. The vessel was carrying about 120,000 pounds of frozen cod, twice the maximum weight allowed according to the vessel’s last stability survey. Two hours later she sank taking with her the lives of 7 crew members.
According to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report the probable cause of the sinking was loss of watertight integrity due to watertight doors left open by the crew. Also contributing to the accident was the master’s decision to continue fishing operations despite severe weather warnings issued two days before and the owner’s failure to ensure that the stability information provided to the master was accurate and current.
“No mandatory stability standards applied to the Katmai.” stated the report pointing fingers at the US Coast Guard’s lack of standards for vessel of this type and size. According to investigators in 1991 the Coast Guard said it would establish stability standards for vessels under 79 feet but, in the 19 years since, no such standards have been issued. This lack of standards lead some owners to infer that up-to-date stability information is unimportant for vessels less than 79 feet long. Vessels such as the Katmai.
Also in question was the master’s experience. Surprisingly the 40-year-old captain of the Katmai did not hold a Coast Guard merchant mariner license and was not required to be licensed because the vessel was less than 200 gross tons. He also admitted that he had no formal training in vessel stability and did not operate the boat under an Safety Management System, nor was he required to.
Fatigue was also a factor. During questioning, the master said he felt fatigued during the accident voyage, stating, “You get used to it.” At the time of the incident he had been awake for approximately 22 hours.