Vital life raft stowage lessons after inquiry into fatal sinking

Is your life raft stowed correctly
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It was back in May this year that three British fishermen drowned when their fishing boat foundered and sank so quickly that they had no time to set off a mayday or even collect their life jackets - but it was what happened to the life raft that sounds a warning to all cruising sailors.

David McFarlane, 35, Jack Craig, 21, and Robert Prowse, 20, were onboard the Purbeck Isle when it went missing.

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833) Picture: RNLI A major search is under way today after a fishing boat with three crew failed to return to port last night (thursday). Portland Coastguard in Dorset received a call from a fisherman at 5.39pm after the Purbeck Isle was overdue and could not be contacted. A Royal Navy warship, lifeboat crew and coastguard helicopter launched a search but were unable to find the missing boat, which has not been seen since leaving the port thursday morning. It is thought the
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Britain's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report has said it was 'entirely possible' they could have survived if only their automatically-inflating life raft had inflated.

Because of the lack of a distress signal, the coastguard was not alerted for hours and the boat was not found until the day after it had sunk. After the fishing boat had not returned on schedule and a search was started, it was found at a depth of 164ft, south of Portland Bill, with its life raft still on board.

A release unit used to secure the life raft in its cradle activated as the vessel sank.

But the raft failed to float free and inflate because it had not been properly stowed and sank to the seabed.

'Because the life raft canister did not fit snugly into its cradle, the skipper had applied additional lashings to prevent it from falling off the wheelhouse roof in heavy seas,' the report said.

'These additional lashings had been intertwined with the life raft's main lashing rope and they prevented the raft from floating free.'

Meanwhile, the coastguard was not alerted to the Purbeck Isle's plight for seven hours as it was not fitted with an emergency position-indicating radio beacon or similar distress signalling device.

The body of Mr McFarlane, from Weymouth, was found entangled in ropes attached to Purbeck Isle's two lifebuoys the day after the sinking. The wreck of the vessel was found later that day.

The search for the two missing fishermen was called off two days after the tragic incident. Only one was later located.

A spokeswoman from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it was implementing the recommendations from the MAIB report. 'Regulations, standards and good safety practices are vital to ensure the safety of lives at sea. Working together with the Fishing Industry Safety Group, we are all keen to nurture improvements in the safety of commercial fishing vessel operations.'

And it's a heads-up for cruising sailors as well...