Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'A Blindness to Risk:' Board Calls for Mandatory Life-Jackets for Fishermen

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'A Blindness to Risk:' Board Calls for Mandatory Life-Jackets for Fishermen

Article excerpt

Dead fishermen weren't wearing life-jackets

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MONCTON, N.B. - Before sunrise on June 16, 2016, three bleary-eyed lobster fishermen boarded a small fishing boat in northern New Brunswick and set out on Chaleur Bay.

What would unfold in the early morning hours on that fateful day was detailed in a Transportation Safety Board report Wednesday that once again underscored the danger fishermen face -- and the agency's repeated calls for mandatory life-jackets aboard commercial fishing vessels.

For three days, the seven-metre fishing boat, known only as C19496NB, had remained tied up at dock due to a fierce storm that had churned up rough seas and strong winds.

As the end of the spring lobster season approached, the fishermen were eager to check their 300 traps.

Under darkness, with the beam of a handheld searchlight, they found a buoy marking the first lobster trap trawl. The crew hauled up the three traps, removed the catch, rebaited and reset the traps and made their way to the second buoy.

But the fishermen ran into trouble. While the traps were being hauled, a line became entangled in another fisherman's gear. The strain pulled the rear starboard side of the vessel down, and two waves broke over the deck, funnelling water into the boat.

As the men were about to release the line, another wave broke over the deck, flipping the boat and throwing all three fishermen into the cold water hovering just above 12 degrees.

None wore life-jackets, and two of the three men died.

"They were 240 metres offshore. There is a possibility that if they had flotation (devices) they may have been able to get to shore," Transportation Safety Board member Joseph Hincke said in an interview Wednesday.

To make matters worse, the fishermen likely didn't know how to swim.

"I know one of them couldn't swim, I know that for a fact," said Wells Chapman, chief of the New Bandon-Salmon Beach Volunteer Fire Department and one of the first on the scene. "The other gentleman, I'm not sure, but I'd put money on it that he couldn't swim either."

One of the fishermen, a 47-year-old deckhand from Salmon Beach, kicked off his steel-toed rubber boots and managed to climb on the vessel's upturned hull. There he waited, straddling the keel of the upside-down boat, yelling for help.

The senior deckhand surfaced a couple of metres away. He called out for help, but soon went silent. The captain surfaced near the vessel, unresponsive and drifting.

About half an hour later, shortly after 5 a.m., another lobster vessel, the Marie Eliser 1, spotted the capsized vessel.

"It was still dark. The fishermen thought it was a dead whale," Chapman said. "It turtled, was what we called it. The bottom of the boat was on the surface."

The crew of the Marie Eliser 1 helped the shivering deckhand on board, then recovered the bodies of the two fishermen, a 45-year-old Bathurst man and a 67-year-old man from Salmon Beach. …

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