MAIB releases preliminary assessment of explosion that sank crab boat off Norfolk

Galwad-Y-Mor, low in the water, after being abandoned by its crew (Photo: MAIB)

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its preliminary assessment of an incident wherein an explosion occurred aboard the fishing vessel Galwad-Y-Mor 22 nautical miles north of Cromer, Norfolk, on December 15, 2020.


On the said date, the 12.9-metre Galwad-Y-Mor was operating in potting fishing grounds east of the Wash. At about 11:20 local time, the crew were in the process of hauling in a string of crab pots; the skipper was in the wheelhouse with other crew members below decks working the pots.

The hauler was being used to heave in the back rope, and the crew had let the skipper know that there was a lot of tension on the line, when there was an unexpected explosion.

Galwad-Y-Mor was thrown up from the sea surface, then landed heavily back down; all propulsion and electrical power was immediately lost.

The skipper was injured and dazed, but conscious, and saw that the wheelhouse had been completely wrecked.

As he became aware that other crewmembers had been badly injured and that the engine room was flooding, the skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship. He also raised the alarm by texting the skipper of a sister vessel and activating the electronic position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).

Although the liferaft had been manually activated, all crewmembers were initially rescued by the offshore support vessel Esvagt Njord then transferred ashore to hospital by helicopter and lifeboat.

The abandoned Galwad-Y-Mor, which had settled low in the water, was towed to Grimsby by the tug GPS Avenger then lifted out of the water.

The boat’s crew of seven included two UK nationals and five Latvians. All crewmembers suffered injuries, some life-changing, from the explosion.


MAIB inspectors attended Galwad-Y-Mor once it had been lifted ashore in Grimsby. A summary of the key areas of damage was:

  • Extensive shell plating indentation between frames
  • Shell plating ruptures and shearing of a seawater suction
  • Main engine displaced from bedplate
  • Widespread and significant levels of destruction of the wheelhouse and other internal compartments
  • Buckling of internal bulkheads and warping of decks
  • Widespread damage to upper deck fittings.

The MAIB said there was no evidence of an internal explosion.

Preliminary assessment

While recovering crab pots using its hauler, Galwad-Y-Mor was extensively damaged and serious injuries were inflicted on the crew by an explosion.

The explosion was in the water and external to the vessel. There was nothing that the crew could have done to prevent the accident.

The source of the explosion has not been determined, but it was possible that old munitions on the seabed were disturbed as the vessel hauled its pots.

Although extensively damaged and flooded, it is almost certain that Galwad-Y-Mor stayed afloat because the bulkheads either side of the engine room maintained their watertight integrity, containing the flood.

Ongoing action

The MAIB has notified other relevant agencies including: the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Receiver of Wreck, and the Ministry of Defence.

The MAIB investigation is ongoing and a report of the accident will be published in due course.

Baird Maritime

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