NTSB announces the probable cause of the sunken Scandies Rose

Inaccurate stability instructions and ice buildup caused the vessel to sink, investigation found
An undated photo of the Scandies Rose, which sank in 2019. (Courtesy Gerry Cobban Knagin)
An undated photo of the Scandies Rose, which sank in 2019. (Courtesy Gerry Cobban Knagin)
Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 8:24 AM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2021 at 3:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Following the year-and-a-half investigation into the fatal sinking of the Scandies Rose, the National Transportation Safety Board unanimously approved the investigative team’s findings on the probable cause for its 2019 sinking on Tuesday morning.

On Dec. 31, 2019, the Scandies Rose was traveling southwest, west of Kodiak Island, but sank in frigid waters near Sutwik Island. Only two of the seven crew members survived the wreckage. The other five were never found.

The NTSB said the vessel’s inaccurate stability instructions resulted in a low margin of stability to resist capsizing. That combined with heavy lopsided ice accumulation due to wind and sea conditions, which were more extreme than forecasted during the voyage, caused the vessel to sink near Sutwik Island.

“Commercial fishing in 2019 was not just one of the most deadly occupations in America, it was the most deadly occupation in America,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt during Tuesday morning’s video conference meeting. “Commercial fishing had a fatality rate of 145 fatalities per 100,000 full-time employees. Compare that to the average of all workers, which is 3.5 fatalities per 100,000.”

The board highlighted 12 findings the investigative team believed to have played a role in causing the ship to capsize. The findings had included factors such as the ice buildup and inaccurate stability instructions. Those findings also excluded several factors from the incident, such as the captain’s decisions before departing, operational pressures, fatigue as well as drug and alcohol use.

In addition to the findings, the investigative team interviewed mariners as well.

Leading up to the board meeting, the investigative team discovered that the Scandies Rose experienced “bands of light, moderate and heavy icing throughout the day before it capsized.”

After hours of freezing spray icing the vessel, one of the surviving crew members who monitored the accumulation of ice on the vessel considered waking up the crew to break the ice and possibly changing course and speed, but the captain decided otherwise due to the dangerous conditions at sea.

After being relieved by the captain, the crew member noted the vessel’s pot stacks on the main deck were glazed over with ice, according to the findings. He observed more ice on the starboard side pots, which he said was estimated to be 2 inches thick.

Based on the localized weather conditions reported by the captain and crew, the vessel would have experienced ice accumulation greater than 1.6 inches per hour, which is categorized extreme, within the last two hours of its voyage, according to the NTSB.

The investigative team said that at around 9:45 p.m. that night, the vessel turned northwest toward Sutwik Island’s southern bay in search of safety. After changing course, another captain who called the Scandies Rose captain that night said “he had never heard that level of stress in the voice of the Scandies Rose captain before.”

Ten minutes later, the Scandies Rose captain sent a mayday call to the U.S. Coast Guard, pinpointing the location of their ship.

The two survivors were outside when they were swept off the side of the vessel.

While floating in the water, they saw the Scandies Rose sink and did not see anyone else get off the vessel, according to the investigation. Then they were separated by the heavy winds and large waves.

One of the survivors managed to find an inflatable life raft that had automatically deployed on the Scandies Rose as she sank, according to the investigation findings, which he was able to swim to and climb aboard. Once inside, he began yelling for his fellow crew member, who swam aboard several minutes later.

As the survivors tried to stay afloat and wait for help, a Coast Guard rescue helicopter traveled toward the ship‘s last known location, according to the NTSB. It took the rescue helicopter roughly 2 1/2 hours to complete the approximately 170-mile trip, which the flight commander said was “the most challenging flight of his career.”

After recovering the two survivors from the water, the rescue helicopter returned to base. The crew members were transported to an ambulance and driven to a local hospital to be treated for hypothermia.

The Coast Guard continued to search for the remaining crew members throughout the day. In total, the Coast Guard used three helicopters, two C-130 airplanes and a high-endurance cutter to search roughly 1,400 square miles near Sutwik Island.

About 20 hours after receiving the mayday call and after 16 hours of searching for the rest of the Scandies Rose crew, the Coast Guard suspended search and rescue operations.

“The Scandies Rose didn’t capsize and sink because a crew member or the captain did not do their jobs, or because it had been poorly maintained,” Sumwalt said in his closing statement of the board meeting. “It sank because its captain only had partial access to the information that he needed to make the right decisions, and the information that he did have was inaccurate.”

The weather conditions reported from the observation sites at the time of the accident matched the gale-force conditions forecast. However, around the accident time, the captain reported measure winds of 60 to 70 knots with a helicopter rescue reporting 30-foot waves near Sutwik Island.

Once the vessel altered course to starboard, toward Sutwik Island, the wind and seas were no longer supporting the vessel. After the course change, the vessel eventually capsized due to the lopsided weight caused by ice accumulation.

“Based on the voyage timeline and the estimated ice accumulation over that period, the Scandies Rose likely accumulated between 6 and 15 inches of ice on services disposed to wind and icing during the accident voyage,” a member of the investigative team said.

Following the investigation, the investigative team believes that due to the limited service observation resources near Sutwik Island and the Chidwick Bay region, along the fishing vessel to Kodiak Harbor, the National Weather Service cannot accurately forecast the more extreme localized weather and sea conditions for the area.

At the end of the meeting, the NTSB recommended further studies on the destabilizing effects of ice buildup on commercial fishing vessels.

A recording of the NTSB board meeting is available on the organization’s YouTube channel.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information. It was also updated to clarify the difference between included and excluded factors in the investigation.

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