Francie sinking underscores importance of lifejackets and skippers’ decisions

28 June 2018

The sinking of the commercial charter vessel, Francie, provides a tragic illustration of the importance of lifejackets and the crucial decisions a skipper has to make.

Maritime NZ Director, Keith Manch, said seven passengers and the skipper drowned when Francie sank trying to cross the bar as it returned to Kaipara Harbour at about 2pm on 26 November 2016. Three passengers survived.

Today, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) released its report into the sinking.

The TAIC report describes Francie as carefully maintained, with a qualified skipper who had written the vessel’s operational plan, including an “exemplary” section about bar crossing. The skipper was also Francie’s owner.

Mr Manch said that on the day of the tragedy crucial decisions had to be made about what sea and weather conditions Francie could safely handle and how to use its operational plan, particularly in deciding about crossing the bar or, instead, fishing inside the harbour.

A decision was made to cross the bar and fish outside the harbour. Returning from the fishing trip the skipper had to pull out of the first attempt at crossing the bar, and on the second attempt Francie capsized. At that time, only three of the 11 people on board were wearing lifejackets.

The report found: “The forecast weather conditions, in combination with the state of the tide, were not suitable for the Francie to head out over the Kaipara Harbour bar and make a safe return.”

It also found: “It is virtually certain that everyone on board would have had a better chance of survival if they had been wearing a lifejacket, and virtually certain that more people would have survived had the lifejackets been fitted with crotch straps.”

TAIC has made four recommendations to Maritime NZ, one about reporting safety concerns and three about lifejackets. Mr Manch said Maritime NZ is acting on all four.

Maritime NZ will actively promote its existing on-line system where the public and the maritime community can report maritime-safety concerns and will look for opportunities to improve it. In addition, Maritime Officers often receive information directly from the maritime community and this will also be promoted and encouraged.

Maritime NZ will review the current requirements for lifejackets on commercial “restricted-limit” vessels to increase safety, including use of crotch straps. (Restricted-limit is included on the certificate of survey and is the area where a vessel can operate.)

Importantly for the review, New Zealand’s requirements for lifejackets on commercial vessels are based on the international rules made by the International Maritime Organization, which encourage but do not require crotch straps. The New Zealand lifejacket standard, and those of other countries, does not make crotch straps mandatory.

Wearing lifejackets will continue to be the focus of the recreational boating safer boating campaign, and Maritime NZ will continue to emphasise to boaties the benefits of having crotch straps fitted to their lifejackets.

TAIC’s four recommendations are that Maritime NZ:

  • Develop, implement and advertise a process where members of the public and the maritime community can submit reports on maritime-safety-related concerns.
  • Review the requirements for lifejackets on commercial restricted-limit vessels to ensure the lifejackets are of the appropriate type for the type and place of operation.
  • Make crotch straps mandatory for lifejackets on commercial vessels that operate out of harbours and off exposed coasts.
  • Continue to emphasise to recreational boaties the benefits of having crotch straps fitted to their lifejackets.

Addressing safety issues – Maritime NZ:

  • Maritime Officers, shortly after the Francie accident, engaged personally with the eight commercial operators known to cross the Kaipara Harbour bar. Included in that direct engagement were discussions about each operator’s procedures and process to ensure they met best practices on bar crossings.
  • Provides comprehensive advice, guidance and videos aimed at both commercial and recreational skippers on crossing bars, wearing lifejackets and being a safe skipper. It also uses Facebook pages and Twitter.
  • Funded, and advertises on, MetServices marine weather app, which both commercial and recreational skippers use to check the weather. The app has 200,000 users a month and includes advertisements that remind boaties to wear lifejackets and take VHF radios.
  • Funds Coastguards “Old4New” lifejacket upgrade campaign, which will continue this summer.
  • Lifejacket campaign has run on TV and in print and digital media since 2011. The campaign has increased the number of boaties who say they carry lifejackets to more than 90%, and those who say they wear lifejackets all or most of the time to 76%.

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