Nearly 50 passengers got a real surprise aboard the tripper boat, Surprise, last spring when it ran aground in calm waters. While no one was injured and all passengers were quickly evacuated from the boat headed for the Isle of Scilly, waters were calm and there was no reason the boat should have been involved in an accident or put day-tripping sightseers in danger. Recent investigations found that there were some serious safety concerns that, if addressed, could have prevented the incident.
The Surprise Grounded
The boat was a small day tripper taking tourists to and from the Isle of Scilly off the Cornish coast when it hit rocks and ran aground. There were two crew members on board at the time of the accident, including a 28-year-old skipper. The boat also carried 48 passengers, tourists enjoying a wildlife sightseeing tour off the Isle of Scilly.
The waters were calm that day in May of 2016, but the boat hit a submerged rock hard. Passengers later reported hearing a loud scraping sound as the boat screeched to a stop in the water. The boat then began quickly taking on water as the rock had breached the hull.
The skipper on board the ship acted quickly, radioing for help and directing the other crew member to get all passengers in life vests and to deploy the lifeboat. The call was answered by local fishing vessels and the UK coastguard at Falmouth. Three other vessels were able to quickly evacuate the passengers, all within 15 minutes of the incident. No one was hurt. The bilge pumps on the Surprise pumped out the water and the boat was able to sail back to the harbor under its own power.
Safety Issues Uncovered during Incident Investigation
While the captain of the boat acted quickly and effectively to make sure the passengers aboard the tripper would be evacuated, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that there were serious safety errors that led to the accident. The main finding was that the skipper had failed to adequately assess the safety in the area where the grounding occurred, but this led to the discovery of a deeper problem with safety. The captain was obviously unaware of the rock that caused the accident, and he was also purposely navigating the boat close to visible rocks so passengers could see seals.
The MAIB concluded that the trip had not been planned well enough and that with no plan for the boat’s passage that safety depended on the skipper’s knowledge of the local area, clearly inadequate. The MAIB also found that the Council of the Isles of Scilly, which issued boating licenses, did not have the marine expertise needed to perform that duty. The skipper was licensed, but the licensing process was found to be inadequate in terms of assessing local knowledge of things like submerged rocks.
This accident is one example of preventable maritime incidents. In this case no one was hurt and the response to the grounded boat was swift and effective. However, accidents like these can quickly become tragic and result in injuries and even deaths. Safety training and regulations are crucial to keeping everyone, crew and passengers, safe in all boating situations.