NTSB: Lack of preparation, training a factor in death of 2 on Alaska crab boat

 Profile of the Exito drawn by its captain. NTSB photograph.
Profile of the Exito drawn by its captain. NTSB photograph. (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 10, 2018 at 8:15 AM AKST
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On December 6, 2016, the motor vessel Exito slipped below the surface of icy Dutch Harbor waters, never to be seen again. Aboard when it sank were two men, contractors for Trident Seafoods. Their bodies were never recovered.

Now, over two years later, the National Transportation Safety Board has released a report detailing several factors that it says could have saved the two men.

According to the report, the two men, who were not identified by name, could potentially have survived the sinking if they were better prepared or had been trained on proper evacuation procedures.

While the exact cause of the boat capsizing is not known, as no salvage was attempted on the ship, the NTSB provided an analysis of what happened the day the Exito sank.

According to the report, about three hours into the journey from Dutch Harbor to Akutan, the Exito "experienced a roll and did not right itself," the NTSB said. At this time, the captain reportedly called the owner of the ship, stating, "Something doesn’t feel right.”

The captain reportedly tried to call the Coast Guard for help, but a lack of reception in the area made this impossible. At that point, the ship was listing so drastically that the decision was made to abandon the ship.

Aboard the ship, in addition to the two contractors who lost their lives, was the captain, the deckhand, and a third contractor, who survived the sinking.

The three contractors were reportedly attempting to put on their immersion suits, but one of the men had difficulty donning the suits due to poor fitting. He was "described to be large in size" and was unable to put the suit on.

While wrestling with it, he reportedly told the captain "I can't do this" and, "seemed to almost give up." The captain told investigators that he then dragged the man across the deck to the bottom of the stairs.

Unable to carry him up the stairs, which was reportedly "more like climbing a ladder" due to the angle of the ship as it sank, the captain had to leave the man there.

The other man who perished reportedly was up one flight of stairs on a landing, "locked up" and refusing to leave the deck. The contractor who survived told investigators that he stated multiple times, "I can't."

"Each time they tried to push him out, the second contractor reportedly braced himself with his hands at the doorway," the NTSB said in a report.

In addition to the events leading up to the sinking of the Exito, the report outlines what could have been done differently to possibly save the two contractors.

"The captain did not provide information on alternate means of escape during his initial safety briefing to the contractors," the NTSB report states.

"Critical time was lost in trying to access the wheelhouse by way of two decks of stairs. Had the contractors who were lost been informed of alternate means of escape, they may have survived."

The poorly fitting suits also cost the men valuable time, the NTSB said.

"Had the contractors been instructed to try on their immersion suits prior to getting under way for both familiarity and fit, it may have been determined that the adult-size suit provided to the larger contractor did not fit," the NTSB said.

The captain himself was cited as lacking in training as well as the contractors. "The captain of the Exito had no training or experience with stability and relied on information that had been passed on to him."

The NTSB said that this lack of training possibly caused issues, as both of the actions the captain took to right the ship's pitch actually decreased stability instead.

While the exact cause of the ship taking on water is not known, the NTSB also cited issues with repairs performed on the areas of the ship which were the most likely to have first began to take on water.

The NTSB said that the owner, the captain, and the previous captain were all aware that the starboard side was "not watertight."

"While it cannot be determined if the source of the list was from water intrusion in the starboard-side void, it was a known issue for the owner and captain, and there were no measures taken to appropriately correct it," the report states.

The NTSB concluded that while the cause of the sinking may have been flooding from an undetermined location, the loss of life was undoubtedly a human error. The contractors were "inadequately prepared and equipped for an emergency."