CONCORDIA SINKING: Human Error NOT a Microburst

School ship Concordia

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board has finally released its report on the loss of the school ship Concordia, the 188-foot square-rigger that capsized and sank off the coast of Brazil back in February of last year. I was more than a little surprised by its conclusions: a) there was no microburst, as was reported by the captain and crew of the vessel; b) the ship’s officers failed to follow guidance on securing the vessel and reducing sail area prior to the capsize.

You can read the whole report here. If you have the time, it’s worth studying in detail. If you don’t, here are the juicy bits:

3.1 Findings as to Causes and Contributing Factors

1. When the master handed over the watch to the second officer (2/O), he did not provide instructions that would have allowed the 2/O to react to changing weather conditions appropriately and maintain the stability of the vessel.

2. Despite the changes in the wind conditions in the 60 to 75 minutes preceding the occurrence and the fact that several squalls were being tracked, both visually and on the radar, the 2/O did not perceive any threat to the vessel.

3. As the apparent wind speed increased with the onset of the squall, the vessel’s heel angle reached roughly 23° for approximately 2 to 3 minutes without mitigating action being taken.

4. In response to a further, modest increase in wind speed, probably including a vertical component, the vessel began to heel beyond 23°. At this point, the action taken to steer downwind was too late to prevent the vessel from heeling to angles sufficient to immerse the lee-side doors and ventilators.

5. The forward and aft deckhouses had not been fully secured weathertight and, therefore, the vessel’s righting ability at large angles was reduced and protection against the ingress of water was compromised. As a result, downflooding progressed until the vessel lost all stability and capsized.

6. Concordia’s shore-based management did not provide direction on the need for squall tactics and stability booklet familiarization, which would have provided an additional defence against a knockdown and capsize.


3.3 Other Findings

1. The wind speeds experienced by the vessel at the time of the knockdown were most likely in the range of 25 to 50 knots. While there was probably a vertical component to the wind, there is no evidence that a microburst occurred at the time of the knockdown.

2. Some large sailing vessels may have a combination of sail plan and stability characteristics that can make them vulnerable to wind speeds below 30 knots.

3. Conditions in the rafts were made more difficult by the lack of stowage for emergency equipment and problems with the bailers, foot pumps and flashlights.

School ship Concordia
Concordia heeled to 29 degrees/Photo by Erica Trimble
School ship Concordia
Concordia heeled to 41 degrees/Photo by Erica Trimble
School ship Concordia
Concordia’s sail plan at the time of the capsize

Meanwhile, Terry Davies, founder of Class Afloat, the Nova Scotia-based school program that operated the ship reportedly took exception to the TSB’s findings and asserted the school did have reason to believe a microburst was the cause of the incident.

Concordia rescue
Rescue of Concordia’s crew/Photo from Mitsui OSK Lines

You’ll recall this story did have a happy ending: all the crew, including the 48 high school students aboard, were rescued alive. But there were serious questions raised as to why Brazilian SAR authorities took a full day to launch a search for the ship after receiving notice that its EPIRB had been activated. According to one report, the Brazilians did not fully cooperate in the TSB’s investigation.

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