Nicola Faith fishing boat was 'not fit to sail', safety report finds

Ross Ballantine, 39, Alan Minard, 20, and skipper Carl McGrath, 34, all died when the fishing boat sank off the Conwy coast in January 2021.

A boat which sunk off the north Wales coast in 2021 - resulting in the deaths of three fishermen - was not fit to sail, a report has found.

Ross Ballantine, 39, Alan Minard, 20, and skipper Carl McGrath, 34, all died when their boat 'Nicola Faith' sank off the Conwy coast on 27 January 2021.

A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report has now found various faults with the ship, including a lack of proper safety equipment that would have informed the men it was carrying too much weight.

The vessel had been extensively modified during its life which had significantly reduced its stability and it had not been fitted with a mandatory emergency beacon to alert to the capsize.

It was also revealed that the men did not always wear the proper safety equipment while at sea.

The missing fishing vessel Nicola Faith was found in early April, after going missing months before.

Andrew Moll OBE, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, said there are "important lessons" to be learned that must acted upon by all small fishing boat operators.

He said: "Any vessel can become unstable if overloaded. Nicola Faith had been modified, and the modification had not been approved.

"Nonetheless, the vessel could have been operated safely with care. On the day of the accident, the crew were relocating their pots to a new area and were carrying a full day’s catch as well. The combined weight of the catch and fishing gear piled on deck was far more than the boat was designed to carry; it capsized, and all three crew were lost in that accident.

"Fishermen will always be tempted to land a big catch but moving fishing gear at the same time can be overwhelming.

A Just Giving page raised £11,500 for the RNLI crews. Credit: RNLI

"As fuel prices soar, the temptation to carry more and do fewer trips makes economic sense, but where stability is concerned the results can be catastrophic.

"To all fishing vessel crews I have this simple message: Safety begins with good stability; know your boat’s limitations and operate within them", he added.

Key safety issues identified by MAIB:

  • Nicola Faith was operated in an unsafe manner and was loaded with a combination of catch and retrieved fishing gear to the point of instability.

  • A mandatory Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) was not fitted to the vessel and the crew were not equipped with personal locator beacons.

  • Nicola Faith was found to have been extensively modified; these modifications had eroded its margin of positive stability.

  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyors had noted some of the modifications, however, the guidance concerning modifications that would have triggered a stability assessment was not sufficiently clear.

  • Although available on board, the crew did not routinely wear personal flotation devices.

To mark the one year anniversary of the Nicola Faith tragedy, families of the fishermen pledged to work with the RNLI to improve commercial fishing safety and prevent other families suffering, with supporters raising thousands of pounds for the RNLI.

The MAIB has made safety recommendations to ensure small fishing vessels limit their loads and monitor the level of modifications trigger further investigation into a vessel’s stability.