dillon owen ardglass sinking

The sinking of the ‘Dillon Owen’ at Ardglass Harbour highlights the need for navigation planning and emergency drills concludes MCIB report

The sinking of the ‘MV Dillon Owen’ at the mouth of Ardglass Harbour, Co Down on the 23rd October 2019 has highlighted the need for Navigation Planning and Emergency Exercise Drills.

This was the conclusion of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board  (MCIB) report into the sinking of the 23 metre Skibbereen based pelagic trawler which was operating in the north Irish Sea when the incident occurred last year.

At the time the incident occurred, the vessel had a fish catch on-board comprising herring and sprat and was due to offload the catch and refuel in Ardglass Harbour, Northern Ireland on the 23rd October 2019.

The vessel AIS track shows the fishing vessel’s position and speed on its approach to Ardglass Harbour between 03.51 hrs (UTC) to its last position before the harbour entrance at 03.54 hrs (UTC) when its speed was 4.7 knots (kn). 

The skipper stated that the radar and chart plotter were operating and in use. During the approach the skipper was not conscious of or did not make reference to the leading sectored lights from the harbour’s North Pier. 

The skipper stated that the vessel was slightly starboard of the safe channel but he was of the opinion there was enough depth of water to continue to make entrance to the harbour. 

No written or formal passage plan/pilotage plan was used during the approach.

Crewmember No.1 and crew member No.2 were below deck in the main deck making preparations for discharging the fish catch.

The skipper and crew member No.1 and crew member No.2 felt the vessel hit an unknown object with a large ‘bang’ and some scraping movement. 

The point of impact on the vessel was not known to the crew but thought to be on the starboard side. The vessel’s precise chart position or the exact time of impact was also not known. The vessel did not become fast, suggesting that the vessel hit an unknown object a glancing blow. 

Crew member No.1 immediately went up to the wheelhouse to join the Skipper and to ascertain the vessel’s situation. Crew member No.2 immediately went below decks to check the underwater spaces for flood water commencing with the forward space, sonar compartment and the engine room in that order. No flooding was found in these compartments and everything appeared normal.  

Immediately after the impact the skipper instinctively, and possibly while in shock, turned the vessel about and was steering away from the harbour entrance into deeper water. 

The AIS track for the ‘FV Dillon Owen’ shows the vessel had turned about by 04.06 hrs (UTC) and was heading in a south easterly direction at 3.5 kn. The vessel’s AIS track south continued until approximately 04.09 hrs (UTC) when the AIS track showed the vessel turned to port and at 04.11 hrs (UTC) the vessel was heading north at 1.5 kn. 

Sometime between the time of impact and while the vessel was on a southerly course the vessel’s on-line generator stopped and the crew experienced an electrical blackout. 

When the vessel blacked out crew member No.1 immediately proceeded from the wheelhouse to the engine room to start the standby generator, where he met with crewmember No.2. 

Starting the standby generator restored electrical power and light. However, shortly after the standby generator shut down, as did the vessel’s main engine, resulting in loss of both electrical power and propulsion power on-board the vessel and the ‘FV Dillon Owen’ became adrift in a dead ship condition. 

The AIS track shows the vessel’s speed reduced from 5.3 kn at 04.09 hrs (UTC) to 1.5 kn at 04.11 hrs (UTC) by which time the vessel’s course had changed from south to a northerly direction. 

The vessel’s emergency light systems tripped-in and crew member No.1 and crew member No.2 were able to make checks in the engine room of the fuel system supply to the main engine and generators. They found that opening the fuel Day Tank sampling valve produced copious amounts of water at an abnormally high pressure instead of diesel fuel oil as would be normal. 

Opening the drain valve on the inline CJC fuel filter/water separator also produced large amounts of water. Crewmember No.1 deduced that the fuel supply system was contaminated with water, which was the reason the generators and main engine had stopped. 

The five members of the crew attempted to release the fish trawl doors to act as an anchor and arrest the vessel’s drift. However, their attempts were thwarted by the lack of power to operate the winch required to lift and unshackle the heavy trawl doors in order to cast the doors overboard. 

It is not clear why the crew did not attempt to connect up and release the primary anchor. Crewmember No.2 stated there was no time to connect up and release the anchor overboard. 

According to the AIS track the ‘FV Dillon Owen’ grounded on rocks under Phennick Point at approximately 04.36 hrs (UTC). 

A ‘Mayday’ was sent off by the skipper. Belfast Coast Guard responded and requested Newcastle and Portaferry RNLI lifeboats to launch and assist. Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter R116 was tasked as were Newcastle, Portaferry and Kilkeel Coast Guard units. Portaferry RNLI lifeboat arrived on-scene at 06.03 hrs (UTC) and Newcastle RNLI lifeboat at 06.25 hrs (UTC). 

Both lifeboats attempted to tow the ‘FV Dillon Owen’ off the rocks. Weather conditions worsened and attempts by the two lifeboats were unsuccessful. 3.10 At this time crewmember No.1 stated that he found water in the crew accommodation issuing from the floor scupper drains. Due to the worsening weather conditions and the danger of the fishing vessel sinking the five crew were airlifted by Coast Guard rescue helicopter R116 and landed at Ardglass at 07.23 hrs (UTC). 

Both RNLI lifeboats were stood down and returned to their stations. 

The ‘FV Dillon Owen’ remained in position aground but subsequently slipped into deeper water and sank over a period of the next eight days.


The report concluded that this incident was a sequence of three distinct events:

1). the initial grounding; 2). the loss of power; and finally 3). the second grounding and sinking of the ‘FV Dillon Owen’. 

The initial grounding at the entrance to Ardglass Harbour had a number of causative factors: 

  • Entering Ardglass Harbour two hours before high tide in a loaded condition. • Entering Ardglass Harbour without a formal passage/pilotage plan. • Failure to observe the harbour’s navigation aids. 
  • The watchkeeper’s loss of spatial awareness as to the position of the entrance channel with reference to the safe depth of water. 

The magnitude of the vessel’s impact (as reported by the crew) shortly after 03.54 hrs (UTC), the vessel’s AIS track of speed and position and the photographic evidence of damage, indicates that the vessel struck the ground on it’s starboard side, at or on the shallow water shelf south of Ardtole Beacon, with sufficient force to rupture the hull plating of No.4 fuel tank and open the tank to the sea.

There is no evidence to show that the impact of the first grounding event caused the vessel to be fatally damaged at this time. 

The rupture of No.4 fuel tank immediately filled the tank with seawater and the practice of continually circulating fuel oil through the CJC filter in turn contaminated the daily service tank supplying fuel to the main engine and the generators, causing the vessel to lose electrical and propulsion power. If the transfer and recirculation of fuel from the bunker tank through the CJC unit into the Day Tank had been stopped as the vessel approached shallow waters and restricted navigation, or if a procedure was in place to stop this pump should a suspected grounding event occur, then the Day Tank fuel contents would not have been contaminated and the vessel would not have lost power after the first grounding. 

The causal factor leading to the vessel’s second grounding on Phennick Point was the failure of the crew to deploy the primary anchor as the prevailing wind sea direction drove the powerless vessel towards the north shoreline and Phennick Point. The depth of water here was shallow enough to drop an anchor in order to stop the vessel’s drift. 

By first focusing on attempts to release the trawl doors the crew lost valuable time and indicates they did not understand the recommendation contained within S.I. No. 640 of 2007 Merchant Shipping (Safety of Fishing Vessels)(15 – 24 metres) Regulations 2007, Schedule 2 ‘Recommended Practice for Anchor and Mooring Equipment’. Paragraph 17, which states that ‘the use of otter boards/trawl doors should only be used if the vessel has lost its anchors’. 

The ‘FV Dillon Owen’ had not lost its anchors and timely release by the crew of the vessel’s primary anchor at this time would likely have averted the vessel’s second grounding at Phennick Point. 

The grounding at Phennick Point caused fatal damage to the ‘FV Dillon Owen’. The vessel settled onto the rocks at this time and due to worsening weather and sea conditions slipped and sank into deeper water.

Safety Recommendations

The Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport should issue a Marine Notice to remind vessel owners and operators to ensure all navigation is planned in adequate detail and with contingency plans where appropriate. 

The Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport should issue a Marine Notice stating that fishing vessel owners and operators develop contingency plans and procedures and conduct emergency exercise drills to prepare for a grounding event or collision incident. 

Where owners and operators of fishing vessels have an anchoring arrangement whereby chain cables are replaced by trawl warps, that crews ready anchors for deployment when entering or leaving port by connecting the trawl warp to the free end of the primary anchor chain.

Click here to read the full report

Source; Marine Casualty Investigation Board

Dillon Owen Sinking at Ardglass Highlights Navigation Planning

by editor time to read: 10 min