FILE PHOTO: The Emmy Rose departing Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts on September 29. 2020. Photo by Robert Serbagi

NTSB Reiterates Call for Mandatory Personal Locator Beacons Following Investigation Into Deadly ‘Emmy Rose’ Sinking

Mike Schuler
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September 13, 2022

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is reiterating calls for a personal locator beacon requirement following its investigation into the 2020 sinking of the F/V Emmy Rose that claimed the lives of four crew members off of Cape Cod.

 The NTSB said Tuesday the fishing vessel Emmy Rose likely capsized in 2020 after seawater collected on the aft deck and flooded into the vessel through deck hatches that were not watertight. NTSB investigators also found that two freeing ports, designed to drain water, were closed. That caused the vessel to list starboard, further reducing the Emmy Rose’s already compromised stability.

After departing Portland, Maine, on November 17, 2020, the 82-foot-long commercial fishing vessel and its four crew members fished for five days in the Gulf of Maine. On November 22, the captain notified a seafood distribution facility in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that they had assorted groundfish to offload and expected to arrive the following morning.

Early that next morning, the Coast Guard in Boston received and responded to a distress signal from the vessel, prompting a search of more than 2,200 square miles over a 38-hour period before it was suspended. All four crewmembers were never found and are presumed dead. The vessel was declared a total loss valued at $325,000.

The Emmy Rose was eventually located  using side scan sonar on May 19, 2021, about 3.5 miles west of its last known position, at a depth of 794 feet. A remotely operated vehicle survey, conducted in September 2021, confirmed the location of the wreckage and examined the vessel for visible damage.

Side scan sonar image of the Emmy Rose on the seafloor captured on May 20, 2021. Photo courtesy of MIND Technology

Although investigators could not definitively determine the source of initial flooding, it most likely began through the lazarette hatch’s cover, which did not have securing mechanisms and therefore could not be made watertight. That allowed following seas—seawater that flows in the same direction as the vessel—and accumulating water on deck to flood down into the lazarette, a compartment below the deck in the aft end of a vessel.

As a result of the investigation, NTSB recommended that the United States Coast Guard increase the scope of commercial fishing vessel safety examinations to include inspection of a vessel’s freeing port cover design to determine whether the covers are constructed to allow water to readily flow outboard, as intended, and not inboard. A second recommendation was to also include inspection of a vessel’s hatch covers to determine whether they are watertight and have adequate securing mechanisms. 

NTSB also reiterated an earlier safety recommendation to the Coast Guard to require all vessel personnel be provided with a personal locator beacon (PLB). NTSB issued that recommendation following the sinking of the cargo vessel El Faro in 2015 in which all 33 crewmembers perished.  NTSB also reiterated the recommendation after the fishing vessel Scandies Rose sank off Sutwik Island, Alaska, in 2019. Two of the vessel’s crewmembers were rescued; the other five were never found.

As the lead agency for the investigation, the Coast Guard convened a formal marine casualty investigation and worked closely with NTSB. The Coast Guard completed a Report of Investigation in June 2022.

In both investigations, the NTSB concluded that personal locator beacons would have aided search and rescue operations by providing continuously updated and correct coordinates of crewmembers’ locations. The recommendation remains open. 

“It shouldn’t take three marine tragedies to recognize the vital importance of personal locator beacons,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “Given their wide availability and relatively low cost, I urge all fishing vessel operators to provide crewmembers with PLBs today—don’t wait for a mandate from the Coast Guard. If the Emmy Rose crew had access to these devices, perhaps some of them would still be with us today.”

Improving fishing vessel safety remains a priority for the NTSB and is on the NTSB’s 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

NTSB determined the probable cause of the sinking of the Emmy Rose was a sudden loss of stability, aka capsizing, caused by water collecting on the aft deck and subsequent flooding through deck hatches, which were not watertight or weathertight because they had covers that did not have securing mechanisms, contrary to the vessel’s stability instructions and commercial fishing vessel regulations.

NTSB investigators found that at the time of the sinking, the Emmy Rose likely did not meet existing stability criteria, making it more susceptible to capsizing. The return course toward Gloucester subjected the vessel to winds and seas that likely resulted in the accumulation of seawater on the aft working deck. 

Read the report: Marine Investigation Report 22/21 

The public docket for the investigation contains more than 1,300 pages of factual information, including interview transcripts, photographs and other investigative materials.

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