Capsize and sinking of pair trawler Sapphire with loss of 4 lives

Location: Off Peterhead, Scotland.

Accident Investigation Report 1/1999

Read our marine accident investigation report, which includes what happened, actions taken and subsequent recommendations:

sapphire-pub-1999.pdf (4,730.45 kb)


Sapphire and Elegence, two Scottish fishing vessels of similar size and construction, operated as partner vessels in pair trawling operations. Having completed two days of successful fishing in the North Sea at the end of September, the two vessels headed for Fraserburgh at 1000 on 1 October.

On the homeward passage weather conditions gradually deteriorated during the late morning and early afternoon, giving winds of force 7 to gale force 8. Shortly after 1530, Sapphire capsized and rapidly sank about 12 miles from the Scottish coast, just north of Peterhead. Of her five crew, only the skipper managed to scramble clear and swim to one of the automatically released liferafts. The vessel’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) did not float free and went down with the sinking vessel. The single survivor fired several distress flares, two of which were spotted by Elegance who alerted the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Aberdeen. A search and rescue operation recovered Sapphire’s skipper alive at 1746, but no other member of the crew was found.

Safety Issues

  • the failure to close and properly secure weathertight doors and hatches was the major factor in the sinking of the vessel
  • the vessel’s stability booklet assumed that the starboard passage was weathertight
  • the vessel’s EPIRB did not float free during the sinking
  • the vessel’s high-level bilge alarm and fire alarm systems were not operational because the control panel for both systems had been removed for repair
  • the vessel was installed with an HRU which was six months overdue for replacement


Five recommendations have been made regarding the revision of stability booklets for fishing vessels, the marking of weathertight hatches and doors, the amendment of regulations covering EPIRB requirements and potential problems with HRUs within the industry. All recommendations have been addressed to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

This report was published on 18 January 1999.

Published 23 January 2015