Snagging, capsize and sinking of trawler Levan Mor of Looe

Location: 15 miles south of Land's End, England.

Completed PE Summary: Levan Mor of Looe

A short summary of the accident and action taken:

Vessel name:   Levan Mor of Looe
Ship Owner:   Privately owned
Port of Registry:   Fowey
Flag:   UK
Type:   Trawler
Built:   1988 Looe
Construction:   Wood
Length overall:   10.76m
Length registered:   9.92m
Gross tonnage:   11.58
Date & Time:   23 July 2008, Approx 1505 UTC+1
Location of incident:   15 miles south of Lands End
Incident Type:   Capsize and sinking
Persons onboard:   2
Injuries/fatalities:   None
Damage/pollution:   Vessel lost


(All times are UTC +1)

Levan Mor of Looe sailed from Newlyn at 2100 on 22 July for her usual fishing grounds south of Lands End. On board were the skipper and a crewman. The net was shot away at about 2120, and the vessel towed south towards the fishing grounds. At about 0230 on 23 July, and again at about 0900, the gear was hauled and then shot away, with the catch sorted and stowed in less than an hour. Towing watches were shared between the skipper and crewman, with both of them up for hauling, shooting and sorting the catch.

At approximately 1300, shortly before the skipper was intending to haul, the net came fast on an obstruction. Adjusting the engine control to give minimum ahead speed, the skipper put the winch into gear and hauled the trawl warps until they were “up and down”. He then attempted to work the fastener clear by alternately heaving and slackening the gear. This had no effect, and, realising that the fastener was moving, he decided to tow the object into shallower water and to then try to free it again.

The time was roughly 1400, and a northerly course was set. Due to the tide and wind both acting on the starboard side, the vessel’s ground track was approximately WNW at about 1.5 knots.

At about 1500, realising that the vessel was making little progress, the skipper decided to have another attempt to remove the fastener. He hauled the gear until once again the warps were “up and down”. Keeping the engine in gear and running ahead, he applied the port warp brake, disengaged the port dog clutch, and heaved on the starboard warp. The port warp then slipped suddenly, transferring all of the weight to the starboard warp. Under the combined effect of this increased weight, the wind and tide acting on the starboard side, and the engine running ahead, the vessel began to capsize to starboard.

The skipper, who had been standing at the winch controls, leapt over the starboard side, while the crewman, who had been sitting on the step leading into the wheelhouse, leapt over the port side. The vessel was pulled underwater very quickly.

The liferaft, still in its canister, floated to the surface close to the skipper. It had not inflated automatically because the painter had not been attached to the weak link of the hydrostatic release unit. With some difficulty, the skipper managed to pull the painter out of the canister sufficiently for the liferaft to inflate.

At 1526, the vessel now having sunk, the on board auto-locator beacon failed to send its hourly transmission. This information was passed to the RNLI headquarters at Poole, who subsequently informed MRCC Falmouth. As a result, the Penlee lifeboat and rescue helicopter R193 from RNAS Culdrose were tasked.

Shortly after 1700, the skipper and crewman, who were now in the inflated liferaft, heard the helicopter and set off a flare. This was seen by the helicopter crew and, by 1715, both men were being airlifted to hospital suffering from hypothermia.

Action taken

The Deputy Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to the owner of Levan Mor of Looe, commending his pro-active approach to safety by equipping the vessel with a liferaft, and bringing to his attention relevant published advice concerning:

  • the hazards associated with recovering fastened gear, and the need to be practised in procedures and ready to act immediately in an emergency,

  • the recommended fitting of an EPIRB to small fishing vessels;

  • the correct method for securing a liferaft painter, and

  • the recommended practice of wearing lifejackets on deck, particularly when carrying out unusual or potentially dangerous operations.

Published: August 2008

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