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TSB issues three safety recommendations following the investigation into the 2021 sinking of the Tyhawk

Press Release

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 22 November 2023 — Today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is issuing three recommendations aimed at enhancing commercial fishing safety in Canada. These recommendations are part of the investigation (M21A0065) into the capsizing of the fishing vessel Tyhawk in Nova Scotia, which resulted in the loss of two members from Mi’kmaq First Nation communities.

In the early hours of April 3, 2021, opening day for snow crab fishing in area 12 of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Tyhawk departed from Chéticamp to the fishing grounds to set crab traps. During this trip, ice was accumulating on the vessel due to freezing rain. The master and four crew members departed on a second voyage to set more traps later that day. As the Tyhawk neared the fishing grounds, the weather became more severe, as did the vessel’s rolling movements, which allowed water to accumulate on board. Shortly after, following a significant roll to starboard, the main deck submerged allowing for more water to enter, eventually leading to the capsizing of the vessel.

Commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous occupations in the country, with approximately 11 fish harvesters dying every year. “Over the past 30 years, the TSB has been sounding the alarm over the numerous safety deficiencies that continue to put at risk the lives of Canadian fish harvesters,” says Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB. “Too many fish harvesters still don’t make it home from what could have been a preventable accident.”

Recommendations to Transport Canada

The investigation determined that the Tyhawk’s stability was compromised in part by the addition of a removable deck used for snow crab fishing, which had not been evaluated for its impact on the vessel’s stability.

Current regulations state that stability assessments are required when a vessel has undergone a major modification. However, the definition of a major modification and the requirements for stability assessments are qualitative and open to interpretation. While Transport Canada (TC) does provide some guidance to help authorized representatives (AR) and masters identify major modifications, the guidance requires knowledge of stability to interpret it correctly. Compliance with the guidance is also voluntary.

Without a clear definition of what a major modification entails, ARs, masters, and TC may not identify the impact of a major modification on vessel stability. As a result, there is a risk that vessels will operate without adequate stability for their intended operations.

While ARs are responsible for vessel safety, TC is responsible for regulatory surveillance. A systematic assessment by a competent person of all planned modifications, as is done in other countries, can assist in identifying which are major modifications and when stability assessments are required. As many small fishing vessels and other small commercial vessels change hands, having an established record of modifications can help ensure that ARs, masters, and TC have complete and current information when evaluating vessel stability.

Therefore, the Board recommends that the Department of Transport introduce objective criteria to define major modifications to small fishing vessels and other small commercial vessels.

TSB Recommendation M23-06

the Department of Transport require that planned modifications to small fishing vessels and other small commercial vessels be assessed by a competent person, that all records of modifications to these vessels be maintained, and that the records be made available to the Department.
TSB Recommendation M23-07

Recommendation to Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada moved the opening date for the snow crab fishery forward by almost three weeks from previous years. This resulted in an increased likelihood of colder water, ice, and freezing rain. Additionally, opening the fishery at midnight increased the risk of fatigue. However, since the season-opening decision had been made routinely for the last several years, it was not seen as a new situation, and these new hazards were not identified as sources of additional risk.

Fisheries resource management (FRM) decisions are complex, balancing economic, conservation, and safety concerns and their interactions and cumulative effects. In 2021, the season-opening decision was influenced by many FRM measures and policies.

When FRM measures and decisions do not consider the interactions between economic, conservation, and safety factors, including their cumulative effects, then decisions may be made without adequate identification of safety hazards, increasing safety risks for fish harvesters.

The Board therefore recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ensure that policies, procedures, and practices include comprehensive identification of hazards and assessment of associated risks to fish harvesters when fisheries resource management decisions are being made and integrate independent safety expertise into these processes.

TSB Recommendation M23-08

The Tyhawk investigation highlights systemic safety issues that are identified on the TSB Watchlistcommercial fishing safety, fatigue management and regulatory surveillance, all of which need a concerted effort by the regulators to prevent future accidents from happening.

See the investigation page for more information.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-360-4376



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