The Marine Accident Investigation Branch also found that the issuing of local boatman's licenses by the Council of the Isle of Scilly "lacked rigour"

29 June 2017

An investigation into the grounding of the tripper boat, Surprise, which resulted in 48 passengers being evacuated, has found that no passage plan had been prepared for the trip.

The boat, which had two crew on board, was taking passengers on a wildlife sightseeing trip off St Agnes on the Isle of Scilly when it grounded at Western Rocks on 15 May 2016.

Surprise suffered hull damage and started flooding. The 28-year-old skipper made a “Mayday” distress call on VHF which was heard by Falmouth coastguard and numerous local vessels. He also instructed his crewman to help the passengers done their lifejackets and released the boat’s life raft.

A search and rescue helicopter was deployed, along with the St Mary’s RNLI lifeboat.

Passengers were evacuated from the Surprise onto three local boats and the Isles of Scilly ambulance boat. They were then transferred to the lifeboat and taken back to St Mary’s.

The flooding on Surprise was contained by the vessel’s own bilge pumps and it returned to harbour under its own power.

A white wooden fishing boat with passengers on board

One of the local boats that went to the aid of passengers. Credit: Mike Harcum/MAIB

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report states that Surprise grounded because “the skipper was unaware of an isolated, shallow rock when deliberately manoeuvring very close to exposed rocks so the passengers could observe basking seals.”

“Insufficient passage planning had taken place prior to the trip and the skipper had not assessed where safe and unsafe areas existed.”

“Persistent operations in hazardous, shallow waters also meant that the safe conduct of navigation on board Surprise was heavily reliant on the skipper’s local knowledge.”

“However, given the complexity of the hazards, it would not have been possible for the skipper to have known the exact location of every isolated rock at all states of tide,” concluded the MAIB.

It also highlighted that more effective use of electronic navigation aids, including an echo sounder, could have improved the safety of navigation on board Surprise.

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The skipper was a career boatman who had been working as a crewman and skipper in the Isles of Scilly since the age of 16.

He purchased Surprise in 2011 and was its full-time skipper. He held a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Tier 2 Level 2 Boatmasters’ Licence (BML) and a category AA Boatman’s Licence issued by the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

He also held a commercially endorsed Royal Yachting Association Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competency and a Ship Radio Licence, and had attended sea survival and fire-fighting training courses.

A wooden tripper boat sinking off the Isle of Scilly

Surprise following the evacuation of passengers. Credit: Mike Harcum/MAIB

The MAIB also found that although the emergency response on board Surprise was swift and effective, the vessel’s onboard procedures “did not provide guidance on the conduct of navigation or emergency reactions for grounding.”

Additionally, the absence of a documented risk assessment for Surprise’s operations had been identified by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency during an inspection of the vessel prior to the accident.

The MAIB has made a number of safety recommendations, including urging the Council of the Isle of Scilly to review its procedures for the issuing of local authority boatman’s licences.

“The Council of the Isles of Scilly’s procedures for issuing local boatman’s licences lacked rigour; there was no syllabus for candidates to follow, or assurance of training standards,” it highlighted.

Damage to the hull of a blue wooden boat on the Isle of Scilly

The damage to Surprise’s hull. Credit: MAIB

A recommendation is also made to the St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association intended to improve its guidance to members on passage planning and conduct of navigation.

The MAIB concluded that if the association’s skippers had developed generic passage plans and set limits for under keel clearance and proximity to hazards such as shallow rocks, this accident might have been avoided.

20 May 2016

The tripper boat, Surprise was out on wildlife trip on 15 May when the crew reported it was taking on water. At the time, 48 passengers were on board.

A multi-agency rescue operation was launched involving search and rescue helicopters from Newquay and St Athan, the Irish Coastguard aircraft and the St Mary’s RNLI Lifeboat and Coastguard Rescue Team. Other vessels, including the Pegasus, also responded.

All of the passengers were safely transported to shore. There were no reports of any injuries.

A salvage pump was put aboard the Surprise, before it was escorted back to St Mary’s Harbour by the lifeboat.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch says it has now started an investigation into “the grounding and subsequent abandonment” of the Surprise.

16 May 2016

Passengers have been rescued from a boat off the Isles of Scilly, after it was reported to be taking on water.
The call from the vessel, which was just south west of St Agnes, came at 11.30am on 15 May.

The 48 passengers had been on a wildlife trip at the time of the incident.

The St Mary’s RNLI Lifeboat and St Mary’s Coastguard Rescue Team were called, as well as HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopters from Newquay and St Athan and the Irish Coastguard aircraft, along with other vessels in the area including the Pegasus.

All passengers were recovered safely onto the St Mary’s lifeboat, some having been transferred onto other local craft first after the vessel started to take on water.

The passengers were then taken back to shore before the lifeboat returned to the scene.

Meanwhile, the search and rescue helicopter from St Athan and the Irish Coastguard aircraft were stood down.

However, the helicopter from Newquay remained on scene to provide top cover, whilst the lifeboat took the passengers to safety and returned. There were no reports of injuries.

A salvage pump was put aboard the vessel and it was then escorted back to St Mary’s Harbour, Isles of Scilly, by the lifeboat.