Type to search

Commercial Fishing



Fatal accident on board fishing vessel Sunbeam in Fraserburgh on 14 August 2018.


On 14 August 2018, a second engineer on board the pelagic trawler Sunbeam was asphyxiated and died in one of the vessel’s refrigerated salt water tanks. Sunbeam was in Fraserburgh and the refrigerated salt water tanks had been emptied of water in preparation for cleaning. Entry into Sunbeam’s refrigerated salt water tanks, which were enclosed spaces, was routine business for the crew, both when operating the tanks at sea and during maintenance in harbour. On this occasion, the atmosphere could not support life because Freon gas had leaked into the tank, displacing the air.

The key safety issues identified were:

  • Hazards associated with enclosed spaces can include flooding, heat, toxic gasses, flammable gases and oxygen deprivation. It is vital that enclosed spaces are recognised, and safety precautions are put in place before personnel enter them. These include proper ventilation, atmosphere monitoring and a rescue plan.
  • Risk assessments help to identify hazards and lead to method statements for the safe control of work. Without control of the maintenance work being undertaken on board Sunbeam, the second engineer was working alone, and in an enclosed space. Lone working presents significant hazards if you get into difficulty, and it is completely unacceptable in enclosed spaces.
  • Sunbeam’s refrigeration plants were not well maintained and were not being operated as designed. Repairs to corroded and leaking tubes in the starboard refrigeration plant’s evaporator had been ineffective, resulting in the leak of Freon.

Safety recommendations:

  • The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been recommended to extend the application of the Merchant Shipping (Entry into Dangerous Spaces) Regulations, 1988 to include fishing vessels, and to update fishing vessel codes of practice to better emphasise the risks of enclosed spaces.
  • The owners of Sunbeam have been recommended to implement a safety management system that is compliant with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Fishing Safety Management Code.
  • The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association has been recommended to encourage its members to maintain onboard safety management systems in accordance with the MCA’s Fishing Safety Management Code.