Enchanter Investigation Report Released

Following its investigation into the loss of the charter vessel Enchanter at North Cape on March 20 last year, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission identified some major safety issues affecting the marine sector nationwide.

They included: the availability of aircraft for Search and Rescue and fuel to run the rescue helicopters, and the need for SAR sector joint training; clear 

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maritime rules regarding the stowage of lifejackets for ease of access in an emergency; having tracking systems as a requirement on all commercial vessels; and the interpretation of the maritime rules by Vessel surveyors.

The charter fishing vessel Enchanter, with eight passengers and two crew on board, capsized when it was struck by a large, steep wave. The crew activated an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) initiated a search and rescue response.

The first rescue helicopter to arrive retrieved five people from the upturned hull and other floating debris. The bodies of the remaining five people were recovered after an almost two-day search and rescue operation involving multiple aircraft and surface vessels.

The Commission found the Enchanter most likely strayed into an area prone to occasional larger waves peaking as they entered shallowing water off Murimotu Island at North Cape. When the wave rolled Enchanter onto its side, the force of water exceeded the superstructure’s design parameters and the superstructure separated from the hull, resulting in capsize.

There were 10 people aboard – two crew and eight anglers. Out of the five anglers who perished in the event, four survived the initial capsizing and were alive in the water when last seen by the survivors.

Factors in their death included that nobody wore, or had immediate access to, life jackets, and life rafts likely did not automatically deploy. The missing people would have been hard to see in the water at night. None of Enchanter’s four lifebuoys had effective retroreflective tape and only two had a strobe light attached. None of the stowed (but unused) life jackets had retroreflective markings and strobe lights. Finally, there was a significant delay in searching for the five missing people while fuel for the rescue helicopters was sourced.

Safety lessons for boaties

As well as making recommendations for improved SAR operation and the application of survey checks, the Commission highlighted several safety lessons for skippers, mariners, and owners to note. They include: 

      • If you can’t avoid navigating in shallow water in adverse wave conditions, be vigilant and expect waves larger and steeper than in deeper water. 

     • Stow life jackets around a vessel to be accessible in an emergency. 

     • Fit a tracking device; you’ll be more likely to be rescued quickly. 

     • During the safety briefing, get passengers to practice putting on a life jacket or demonstrate how to do so, rather than working it out in an emergency.

     • Passengers will be safer if they: 

     • Wear an inflatable life jacket or similar buoyancy aid when fishing from an open deck in open and exposed waters. 

    • Wear a personal locator beacon in case you can’t get to the vessel’s EPIRB. 

The principal purpose of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is to determine the circumstances and causes of aviation, marine, and rail accidents and incidents with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than to ascribe blame to any person. TAIC opens an inquiry when it believes the reported circumstances of an accident or incident have – or are likely to have – significant implications for transport safety.

  - NZ Fishing News



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