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Probe into pilot boat deaths reveals misjudgment over seaworthiness

Two men were killed last December when their pilot boat capsized in the waters off of Finland's southern city of Porvoo.

Luotsivene telakalla
The L-242 pilot boat Image: Onnettomuustutkintakeskus

The Finnish Safety Investigation Authority has completed its investigation into an incident at sea late last year that ended in two deaths. Two men operating a pilot boat were killed on 8 December 2017 when their vessel capsized off the coast of the southern city of Porvoo.

The report says that preceding the incident, general information about the stability of pilot boats in choppy water was misleading. The fact that the boat capsized in a storm apparently came as a surprise to people that work in the field, as it is widely assumed that the boats in question are self-righting.

"The assumption was that pilot boats are safe in all maritime conditions. However, in the conditions that were in force at the time, the boat's self-righting power was insufficient to correct the tipped vessel," said Veli-Pekka Nurmi, the authority's director.

At the time of the accident, the weather was very stormy. The authority determined that the direction, height and strength of the heavy swells at sea created an unexpected threat to the pilot boat, with fatal consequences.

Trapped by water pressure in the cabin

Pilot boats shuttle harbour captains back and forth to incoming ships, so they can bring the vessels safely into port. It is a common operation at all of Finland's busy ports, and accidents of this nature are very rare.

At the time of incident, the pilot boat and two workers from the Finnpilot company had been on their way to pick up another pilot boat from an incoming tanker sailing under the Norwegian flag.

The investigation report says that at first, the L-242 model boat fell on its side, and then it flipped over. The first Border Guard rescue team reached the site one-half hour after the boat overturned, but the rough weather at sea prevented them from making much progress. The boat eventually sank underwater, and a diving team later found two bodies in the cabin.

Already earlier in the investigation it was determined that it would have been impossible to save the men from the boat's cabin. There was only one door out of the cabin towards the stern of the boat.

"The pressure of water pushed the men farther back into the cabin, and there was no other way out," said the authority's director Risto Haimila.

The Finnish Safety Investigation Authority said it would issue five new safety recommendations to prevent future accidents on the basis of the report. It also recommended that the Finnish Transport Safety Agency draw up guidelines for professional boats that would take the special requirements of the different vessels and conditions into consideration.

It also advised the Finnpilot Pilotage company to more comprehensively map out potential danger situations and deviations from the safety norms, and step up the overall training of its boat personnel.

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