HALIFAX — Crew aboard a Nova Scotia-based tall ship that went down off Brazil were not trained in assessing the risk of capsizing in rough weather, says a report on the accident that left 64 people adrift at sea for almost two days before being rescued.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada issued its findings Thursday on the sinking of the Concordia last February after it ran into heavy seas and stiff winds about 550 kilometres southeast of Rio de Janeiro.
The safety agency found that the crew on the floating school did not take appropriate measures, such as lowering sails, sealing openings or changing course, before the squall hit with winds of up to 56 kilometres per hour. It also stressed that no single factor caused the ship to sink.
The board said water rapidly flooded into the vessel’s hull because doors, windows and vents were left open, leaving 64 young students and staff only 20 minutes to abandon ship before it went down.
“Once knocked down, and with the deckhouse doors open and taking on water, recovery was impossible,” lead investigator Paulo Ekkebus told a news conference in Halifax.
The report found that the second officer, who was at the helm at the time, had a certificate to act as watch officer but he wasn’t required to have more than a basic understanding of stability.
“He lacked an in-depth understanding of the vessel’s stability and its limits in varying wind conditions,” the 75-page report states.
“As a result, the (second officer) was unaware of the vessel’s vulnerability to the approaching squall.”
Crew and students from Class Afloat were forced to scramble onto the deck, throw on immersion suits and climb into life-rafts as the vessel tipped sharply and water poured in through openings on one side of the 57.5-metre long ship.
The president of the company, based in Lunenburg, N.S., disputed the board’s claim that the ship encountered only squalls rather than a rare weather phenomenon that could have produced an intense blast of downward air.
Terry Davies said an American meteorologist found the Concordia was sunk by a microburst that was reportedly in excess of 120 kilometres per hour.
Davies said the second officer likely didn’t have a chance to prepare since the weather event came on suddenly and without warning.
“It’s clear in retrospect that he didn’t appreciate all of the conditions that existed,” he said from Montreal. “And it’s clear from the data we have that he could neither have seen them or anticipated them or run away from them.”
The board said there was no evidence of a microburst.
It recommended that Canadian sail training vessels require watchkeepers to be trained in the use of comprehensive stability guidance on board.
And it called on Transport Canada to lead other countries in establishing international standards for stability guidance and training.
Transport Canada spokeswoman Maryse Durette said the department will include stability guidance in mandatory training standards being developed, but they won’t be ready for a couple of years.
The report didn’t address the issue of how long it took the Brazilian navy to respond to the unfolding disaster, which left the crew bobbing in life-rafts for up to 41 hours before being rescued.
Those on board included 42 Canadian high school and university students. Others were from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe and the West Indies.