Toxic fumes from refrigerated sea water tank on pelagic freezer trawler Atlantic Princess affecting 9 people with loss of 3 lives

Location: Off Mauritania, West Africa.

Accident Investigation Report: Atlantic Princess

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



The pelagic freezer trawler Atlantic Princess was fishing off the coast of Mauritania and approaching the end of her first voyage to these waters before proceeding to Las Palmas to land the catch. The Third Engineer Officer, opened the side door of a Refrigerated Sea Water (RSW) tank to flush it out prior to it being loading with freshly caught fish. Shortly after opening the tank’s side door the Third Engineer collapsed. Unaware of the reasons, several of his colleagues went to his assistance. By the time they realised that the fumes emerging from the tank were toxic, several other members of the crew had also been overcome. The situation was eventually brought under control but not before three seamen had been killed and six injured.

Safety Issues

  • the refrigerated sea water tank had been left unventilated and unrefrigerated for several days before the accident
  • advice to fishermen and fishing vessel operators on the danger of toxic gases in working spaces of fishing vessels is lacking


The investigation has resulted in recommendations being made to improve both the design of freezer trawlers and on board operating procedures.

This report was published on 8 December 1997.

Published 23 January 2015