Flooding and sinking of modified trawler Ellie May with loss of 1 life

Location: Inner reaches of Moray Firth, Scotland.

Completed PE Summary: Ellie May

A short summary of the accident and action taken:

Fishing Vessel/Accident Details
Vessel Name Ellie May
Registered Owner/Manager Privately owned
Type Trawler
Built 1979
Construction Steel
Length Overall 9.0m
Gross Tonnage 7.23
Date 12/08/2007 (approximate date)
Location of Incident Coastal waters
Incident Type Flooding and sinking
Persons Onboard 1
Fatalities/Injuries 1 fatality
Damage/Pollution None


On or about 12 August 2007, the fishing vessel Ellie May foundered while trawling in the inner reaches of the Moray Firth. The weather was wind force 4 with a moderate sea. The skipper, who was the only person on board, lost his life. The vessel had been much modified from new with the addition of a net drum and associated trawl gear. There is no evidence to suggest that her stability was assessed following any of the modifications made.

Ellie May was normally based in Fraserburgh but was fishing out of Burghead at the time. The skipper had indicated that he intended to fish from Cromarty for a few days so the fact that the vessel was overdue was not realised for several days, after which a comprehensive surface and shore search found no trace of the vessel.

The vessel was located when another fisherman snagged his nets on the wreck and a police diving team subsequently recovered the skipper’s body. The MAIB found that the fundamental cause of the accident was water ingress which adversely affected her stability leading to a rapid downflooding.

Action taken

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to highlight the need to review progress of MCA initiatives relating to fishing vessel safety in two specific areas:

  • Stability and loading guidance for fishermen.

A research project, completed 18 months ago, resulted in a proposal to introduce a “traffic light” system for small fishing vessels to warn fishermen when their vessel’s stability may be in danger. To date, no progress has been made with validating this proposal.

  • Risk Assessment

Within the Scotland and Northern Ireland area, MCA surveyors visit fishing vessels to discuss and assist with the assessment of risks encountered during fishing operations. An extension of this initiative should be considered.

Updates to this page

Published 23 January 2015