Excess modifications, unsafe operation led to deadly fishing boat sinking off Welsh coast, MAIB report finds

The wreckage of the fishing vessel Nicola Faith after being recovered from the seabed off the Welsh coast in June 2021 (Photo: MAIB)

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its report on the investigation into the capsizing and sinking of the whelk potting vessel Nicola Faith and the deaths of its three crewmembers on January 27, 2021.

On the said date, Nicola Faith capsized and sank north of Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales with the loss of its three crewmembers.

The MAIB said the vessel had been extensively modified during its life, and the modifications had significantly reduced its margin of positive stability.

On the day of the accident, Nicola Faith had been loaded with catch and retrieved strings of pots to the point of instability, which resulted in the capsize and subsequent sinking of the vessel.

The vessel had not been fitted with a mandatory emergency beacon to alert to the capsize, and it was not reported as overdue until 10:00 local time the next day.

Following its salvage by the MAIB, a thorough inspection of the vessel was carried out to determine possible modes of capsize and a full assessment of its stability was undertaken.

Safety issues

  • Nicola Faith was operated in an unsafe manner and was loaded with a combination of catch and retrieved fishing gear to the point of instability.
  • A mandatory emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) was not fitted to the vessel and the crew were not equipped with personal locator beacons.
  • Nicola Faith was found to have been extensively modified; these modifications had eroded its margin of positive stability.
  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) surveyors had noted some of the modifications. However, the guidance concerning modifications that would have triggered a stability assessment was not sufficiently clear
    Although available on board, personal flotation devices were not routinely worn by the crew.


Recommendations have been made to the MCA to amend the Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Fishing Vessels of less than 15m Length Overall, to revise the wording and refer to a load limit rather than a catch limit, and to review and enhance the guidance to surveyors to clarify what level of modification should trigger further investigation into a vessel’s stability.

A recommendation has also been made to Nicola Faith‘s registered owner, The Big Ship, to ensure that a written agreement is in place to clearly identify the organisation or person responsible for the operation of any vessels it may own.

Related publications

A safety flyer to the fishing industry highlighting a number of the safety lessons was produced for this report.

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