Investigators have concluded that the Saint Christophe 1 sank in Dartmouth Harbour due to "significant language barriers" between the French skipper and the harbour staff.

“Significant language barriers” between a French skipper and the staff at Dartmouth Harbour resulted in the trawler, Saint Christophe 1, sinking in the harbour, a report has revealed.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said the harbour authority was “fully aware” that the vessel, which was berthed at the South Embankment Quay, would ground on the falling tide.

However, the skipper of Saint Chrstophe 1 was not, despite attempts by one of the authority’s river officers, who could not speak French, to use hand gestures to indicate this.

“Saint Christophe 1’s skipper thought that the river officer was telling him to make sure he tended his vessel’s mooring lines as the tide went out,” said the report.

“During the berthing operation, the skipper had observed echo sounder readings of about 9m and thought that there was plenty of water on the berth. The skipper indicated that he understood this information and thanked the river officer. The river officer then provided each skipper with a copy of the 2016/17 Dart Harbour Guide,” continued the report.

“The second river officer, who could speak a few words of French, gave Saint Christophe 1’s crew directions to the nearest bank, supermarket, and other local amenities. Satisfied that the vessels were secure alongside, the Dartmouth Harbour Master and his river officers left the quay.”

The MAIB also found that a local fishing vessel had contacted the harbour authority to raise concerns specifically about the Saint Christophe 1 grounding as the tide receded.

Saint Christophe 1, along with another French fishing vessel, Sagittaire, grounded and started to list at around 2300 on 9 March 2016.

Sagittaire’s crew raised the alarm and rigged chains to support the vessel as the tide fell.

But Saint Christophe 1 rolled onto its side and started to flood.

Sagittaire re-floated as the tide rose, but Saint Christophe 1 continued to flood and was almost fully submerged at high water.

Both crews were evacuated from their vessels without incident, and there was minimal pollution.

Saint Christophe 1 was salvaged on 2 April, but was declared a constructive total loss by its insurance company.

MAIB investigators have found that the South Embankment Quay was unsuitable for both Saint Christophe 1 and Sagittaire to berth at over low water.

The two vessels had come into Dartmouth Harbour to seek shelter in bad weather.

The report highlighted that both skippers “were ill-prepared to use the UK south-coast harbours as ports of refuge despite a period of poor weather being forecast” and had a “relaxed attitude to the safety of their vessels in port.”

The vessels were not carrying any of the local harbour charts.

“Saint Christophe 1’s skipper assumed, because there had been ample depth of water as his vessel approached South Embankment Quay, that sufficient depth would be available alongside at all states of the tide. And, Sagittaire’s skipper assumed it was safe to berth at the same quay as Saint Christophe 1. None of the skippers attempted to check the tide information for Dartmouth, which was available in French on the DHNA (Dartmouth Harbour and Navigation Authority) website, nor did they use their echo sounders to check their under keel clearance once alongside,” stated the report.

The MAIB also found that the Saint Christophe 1 would not have been lost if hatches and doors had been watertight.

“Most of the watertight doors and hatches were either lashed open, or were impossible to close and make watertight, having been disabled at some time in the past. Portholes on the starboard side were also open to allow for ventilation,” it noted.

Since the incident, the Dartmouth Harbour and Navigation Authority has included information about the use of South Embankment Quay and other moorings in its draft
Moorings’ Policy 2016-2020; commenced a review of its existing risk assessments and requested to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that a Port Marine Safety Code health check is performed on its port in 2017.

The MAIB is recommending that the DHNA provides guidance to its duty harbourmasters and river officers about the information they are required to exchange with visiting vessels before approving their entry into the harbour.

It is also being asked to review the control measures identified in its risk assessments and ensure procedures are in place to make them effective.

The owners of Saint Christophe 1 and Sagittaire are recommended to review their carriage arrangements to ensure appropriate charts and publications are available for likely ports of refuge in their area of fishing operations.