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27 July 2017, 06:24
A flooding alarm had been disabled on a fishing boat that sunk off the Western Isles as its crew slept, an investigation has found.
Three people died and one man swam to safety when the Louisa foundered near the island of Mingulay, south of Barra, early on April 9 last year.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said all four men woke and donned lifejackets as they found the ship sinking but were unable to inflate the liferaft.
An emergency radio beacon was activated but when rescue crews arrived at the scene Martin Johnstone, from Halkirk, Caithness, and Chris Morrison, from Stornoway, Lewis, were found to have drowned.
The body of skipper Paul Alliston, from Lochs, Lewis, has never been found despite several searches.
The fourth crew member, Lachlan Armstrong, from Stornoway, swam to shore and clung to rocks before being rescued by lifeboat.
The MAIB concluded the vessel's deck wash hose had been left running and flooded the hold while the crew slept.
A previously disconnected bilge alarm sounder prevented the crew from being alerted to the flooding until just before the Louisa foundered, the investigation found.
The crew were also said to have been working long hours and ''the debilitating effect of fatigue should not be underestimated'', MAIB said.
Chief inspector of marine accidents Steve Clinch said: ''In the absence of any identified material defect, we have concluded that the vessel probably foundered as a result of its deck wash hose flooding the hold while the skipper and crew were all asleep.
''A previously disconnected bilge alarm sounder prevented them from being alerted to the flooding until just before the vessel foundered.
''These factors highlight operational deviations from best practice and an underestimation of the risks involved.''
Rescue crews were delayed in locating the crew because they did not have personal locator beacons and had to wait for a confirmed position for the ship's radio beacon.
Concerns have also been raised about the lifejackets which were supposed to turn an unconscious person onto their back and keep their airway clear of the water. Mr Johnstone and Mr Morrison were found face down in the water.
Mr Clinch said: ''A failure of Louisa's liferaft to inflate and a delay in the arrival of search-and-rescue assets meant that, after abandoning the vessel, the skipper and crew depended on their lifejackets for survival.
''A lifejacket should turn an unconscious person onto their back and keep their airway clear of the water.
''It is, therefore, of concern that the skipper and two crew were tragically found unresponsive and face down in their lifejackets when the rescue services arrived on scene.
''The results of lifejacket trials undertaken by the MAIB and of lifejacket testing commissioned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) following the accident strengthen that concern.
''Therefore, as a matter of urgency, I am recommending the MCA to conduct further research to confirm or otherwise the suitability of historical and extant lifejacket water performance test protocols.''