French fishing boat capsized in Dartmouth harbour because crew could not speak English
Saint Christophe 1, a 32-year-old fishing boat from the north coast of France which was manned by a crew of five, sank on March 10 as it berthed on Dart Harbour.
The previous day, it had sought shelter along with two other French vessels as bad weather disturbed its fishing off the south-west coast of England.
Along with another ship, the Sagittaire, Saint Christophe 1 was directed to berth alongside a quay wall, but when the tide went out it grounded and capsized.
A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, issued today, found that “the Harbour Authority was fully aware that the Saint Christophe 1 would ground on the falling tide but, due to language difficulties, its staff were unable to make the fishing vessels’ skippers aware of this.”
When the boat came to berth, harbour authority staff tried to communicate with hand gestures that it would have to leave before low tide.
But the Saint Christophe 1’s skipper thought that the river officer was telling him to make sure he tended his vessel’s mooring lines as the tide went out.
After eating on board ship, both crews went to bed. At 11pm, the crew watchman on board the Saint Christophe 1 went on deck to tend the lines.
Once on deck, he discovered that the vessel had taken on a slight starboard list, away from the quay. The crewman began to look around the vessel to find the cause of the list, but as he did so the list increased.
Unable to identify the problem, the crewman woke the skipper and the rest of the crew. The alarm was raised and the other French ship, the Maranatha 2, helped rig chains between the Sagittaire and the quayside mooring bollards to arrest its list.
But Saint Christophe 1 was listing at an angle of approximately 60° and water began to flood in through doors that had been left open.
The crews of both ships, ten in total, were rescued by the RNLI, but the Saint Christophe’s time was up. It was salvaged on April 2, but was written off by its insurers.
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It later transpired that the harbour had a list of people who could act as translators if needed, but neither the harbourmaster nor his deputy were aware of it.
Following the accident, the Dartmouth Harbour and Navigation Authority has undertaken to conduct a review of its existing risk assessments for the port.
The authority will make a remote emergency language service available at all hours, with notices on the quayside providing details.