The MCIB has published its report into the FV Kayleigh fire off Cork

The MCIB has published its report into the FV Kayleigh fire off Cork

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MAIB) has released its report into loss of the 13.26 metre FV Kayleigh S 220 off the southwest coast of Ireland on the night of 03 March 2020.

The FV Kayleigh was a Cygnus 44 constructed in the UK in 1987 and was rigged for trawling targeting whitefish such as cod, hake, monkfish, etc.

On the evening of 03 March 2020, a fishing vessel 9 nautical miles southwest of Sheeps Head, Co Cork, with two crew on board was fishing when a fire broke out in the vessel’s engine compartment. The crew suffered burn injuries. The fire continued in the engine compartment and the vessel started to take in water.

The skipper issued a Mayday distress call on the VHF at 23:10hrs that the boat was on fire and taking on water. The vessel’s emergency positioning indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) was activated at 23:21hrs when the crew abandoned the vessel and boarded an inflatable life raft the EPIRB transmission identified the vessel as the FV Kayleigh.

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Castletownbere RNLI lifeboat was the first on the scene and at approximately 23:58hrs picked up two injured crew from their life raft and immediately preceded to Castletownbere to transfer the crewmen ashore for medical treatment. Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter R115 airlifted the two injured crewmen to Cork Airport for onward transfer by ambulance to Cork University Hospital for treatment.

The fishing vessel was abandoned and drifted and presumed to have sunk sometime early on 04 March.

The vessel had departed the home port of Castletownbere approximately 06:00 hours on the morning of 03 March 2020 to fish south off Sheeps Head. The vessel, using a trawl net, first shot its net approximately 07:15 hrs and continued fishing throughout the day. The skipper intended to return to Castletownbere on completion of the fishing trip .

Met Éireann estimated of the weather and sea conditions between 18:00 and 23:59hrs UTC on Tuesday 03 March 2020 for an area 9 nautical miles southwest of Sheeps Head suggested that there was rain and drizzle some patches of mist. A light to moderate southwest breeze backed south to southeast with mean speeds of eight to 28 km/hr and frequent gusts up to 40 km/hour may have occurred. Visibility was good at first decreased moderate or poor in rain, drizzle or mist. The sea state was rough 2.5 to 4 metres with significant wave height.

The FV Kayleigh

On the day of the incident the boat had commenced fishing at approximately 07:15 hours and continued working throughout the day. The vessel was boarded by a Naval Service fisheries patrol boarding party on routine inspection at approximately 11:00 hours. All was in order and the boarding party returned to the naval patrol ship. The crew of the FV Kayleigh continued fishing.

The third trawl was shot that evening at approximately 19:15 hours. There was a big swell running, and it was dark. The crew cleaned the fish from the previous catch and had some dinner and the crew member retired to the cabin to rest. The crew cabin was located in the bows of the vessel under the small four deck an above the engine compartment hydraulic oil tank. The skipper remained on watch in the wheelhouse. While the third tow was in progress sometime between 22:00 hours and 22:30 hours the crew cabin smoke detector alarm activated.

The crew member resting in the cabin reported that there was smoke in the cabin but no fire. There were no other smoke detectors located on board the vessel. In the wheelhouse, the skipper investigating the source of the smoke, turned on the engine compartment lights and lifted the engine compartment hatch cover located in the port side of the waylays. He immediately saw a fire in the vicinity of the starboard side of the engine. The skipper could not determine the source of the fire before he closed-down the hatch in order to contain the fire and the compartment.

The skipper shouted an alarm to the crew member and preceded to close-down the engine compartment to starve the fire or fuel an air. His first action was pulling them emergency fuel shutoff steel wire cord, thereby closing the remote operated fuel valve an stopping the fuel flowing to the engine from the fuel tanks. The skipper stated that the engine started chugging and shut down shortly afterwards. Meanwhile the skipper closed down the engine compartment ventilation flaps located aft of the wheelhouse and on deck behind the wheelhouse entrance door. By now the crew member was dressed and out of the crew cabin. He assisted the skipper to prepare to fight the fire. All fire extinguishers were brought out of the cabin and supplemented by another dry powder and a CO2 extinguisher in the wheelhouse. The crew donned their heavy work clothes to give added protection and prepared to open the engine compartment hatch in the wheelhouse to fight the fire.

The skipper stated that he was only guessing whether the fire was still burning after they had closed the vents and shut down the engine as there was no means of checking. The hatch was the only quick means of access into the compartment. There was no remote means of fighting the fire. They could feel no significant heat from around the hatch or the deck indicating a large fire in the compartment (the deck and hatch had insulation on the inside surfaces). The crew estimated that these actions took between 5 to 6 minutes before they felt ready. When all was prepared the skipper, with the other crewmember ready behind with the extinguishers, opened the engine compartment hatch. The skipper and crewmember stated that, in the heat of the moment, they forgot the principle of keeping as low as possible when attempting a hatch entry into a compartment containing a fire in order to avoid the predicted fireball. The skipper stated that when he opened the hatch a fireball immediately erupted out through the opening and engulfed the two crewmembers resulting in burns to both their upper bodies, arms and heads. Their hair was on fire. While both crewmembers suffered burns the skipper’s burns were worse due his closer proximity to the opened hatch and fireball.

According to the skipper the fireball was accompanied by a small explosion which dislodged all the instrument and chart-plotter screens in the wheelhouse and blew the wheelhouse lights out. Both crew members exited the wheelhouse in order to clear themselves and extinguish the fires on their persons. They were both shocked and disorientated for some time. They stated that during this time the engine compartment hatch remained open, thick black smoke continuously issued from the engine compartment but there were no flames visible.

The engine room bilge alarm activated at some point. The skipper re-entered the wheelhouse and switched on the engine compartment’s small electric bilge pump. The skipper stated that the electric bilge pump electrical supply was from the general service battery bank. The skipper was able to hear water ‘sloshing’ around in the engine compartment and directed the crew member to bring down the liferaft and the EPIRB from its housing on the wheelhouse roof.

The crew made preparations to abandon the vessel. The life raft and EPIRB were readied for deployment and activation. Before abandoning the vessel, the crew paused and took stock of the situation. With the aid of a powerful handlamp they could see water in the engine compartment to the height of the bottom rungs of the ladder but could not see the source of the flood water. The vessel had started “lurching” with the large amount of water in the compartment and they had growing concerns regarding the vessels deteriorating stability. The skipper broadcast a MAYDAY on VHF radio, Channel 16, at 23:10 hrs. The crew donned PFDs, deployed the life raft and climbed into it before casting off from the fishing vessel and activating the vessel’s EPIRB.

The broadcast Mayday was received and answered by Bantry Coast Guard Radio (CGR). The Mayday informed the vessel’s position and description with two people on board. The vessel had a fire and was taking water and the crew were abandoning the vessel and taking to the life raft. At some time shortly before 23:21 hrs the crew activated the EPIRB.

At 23:55 hrs the crew of the FV Kayleigh were found and taken from their life raft by Castletownbere Lifeboat and due to their serious burn injuries were immediately taken ashore to Castletownbere. The Coxswain of the Castletownbere Lifeboat reported that he viewed the FV Kayleigh from approximately 300 metres away. He did not see any fire on board the vessel which was still afloat but was down by the head when they departed the scene of the incident.

The injured crew were taken to Castletownbere where they were transferred to IRCG rescue helicopter R115 which airlifted them to Cork Airport where they arrived at 01:44 hrs. The two crewmembers were immediately taken to Cork University Hospital (CUH) by ambulance for treatment and hospitalisation.

The Naval Patrol vessel ‘L.E. James Joyce’ had been tasked to stand-by the adrift FV Kayleigh and reported at 01:38 hrs that the vessel did not seem to be on fire, was still afloat and only the bow was “sunken”. The naval ship was released from its stand-by task and the fishing vessel was left adrift and unattended for the night.

The following day at 08:36 hrs IRCG rescue helicopter R117 was tasked to locate the FV Kayleigh at its last known position. Rescue helicopter R117 subsequently reported at 10:24 hrs that they were on scene and reported an oil slick but there was no sign of the vessel or debris and presumed the vessel had sunk.

There have been no subsequent sightings reported of the FV Kayleigh and the vessel is presumed sunk at the time of this report.

The MCIB report concludes that at this juncture it is more probable than not that the source of the fire first seen by the skipper when he first looked into the engine compartment was in the vicinity of the engine exhaust pipes or battery bank whereby lub-oil was ignited by the hot exhaust pipes and caught fire. The resulting fire would likely have followed the leaking oil which spilled over onto the lower part of the engine and floor plates. The fire in this area would likely be in direct contact with the engine seawater cooling flexible hose and the hull. The plastic materials of the hose and/or the hull caught fire and were burned through to a degree that the material(s) broke down, losing their intrinsic strength and allowed seawater to enter and flood the engine compartment. Thick black smoke emitting from the compartment after the fire ball supports the hypothesis that the plastic component of GRP hull and/or the plastic flexible pipes were on fire by the time the skipper opened the hatch the second time and the crew were injured by the fireball.

It is surmised that the quantity of seawater in the compartment and the lurching movement of the vessel caused the fire to be extinguished by water sloshing around the compartment and over the fire. This hypothesis is supported firstly, by the report from the fishing vessel skipper that he saw and heard water in the compartment and secondly, the report by the Lifeboat Coxswain that he saw no fire on the fishing vessel at 23:53 hrs.

The FV Kayleigh was abandoned, adrift and bow down when last seen at 01:38 hrs on 04 March. The vessel is presumed to have eventually sunk sometime between 01:38 hrs when the vessel was last seen and 10:24 hrs when a helicopter search could not find the fishing vessel. Reasonable deduction would conclude that a slow flooding of the compartments adjacent to the engine compartment (due to a lack of watertight sub-division) would continue until the vessel lost positive buoyancy and sank.

The full report can be read here.

Brian J McMullin Solicitors
MMG Welding Killybegs

MCIB releases report into ‘FV Kayleigh’ loss off Sheeps Head, Co Cork

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