The Danger of Double-Plated Hull Repairs

According to a report recently released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), it was most likely the use of double plating during the repair of a fishing vessel’s hull that caused the F/V GRACE MARIE to flood and sink off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, last year. The agency warns against the danger this type of repair can pose for the crews of fishing vessels.

What Happened in the Case

The steel-hulled stern trawler F/V GRACE MARIE was transiting to fishing grounds approximately 80 miles east of Gloucester when the “high-high” bilge alarm sounded in the wheelhouse. While it was common for the high-level alarm to sound briefly once a day, the captain and crew recognized that the more-serious alarm was unusual and the captain immediately proceeded to the engine room to inspect with another crewmember. They realized water was steadily rising in the engine room bilge but they could not identify the source. The captain started two more bilge pumps in addition to the one already in operation, and he closed the seacocks to prevent water from entering through a breach in the cooling or priming systems. However, the floodwater continued to rise.

When the water reached the propeller shaft, the captain turned off the main engine. Realizing that the bilge pumps could not keep pace with the rising water, the captain summoned all hands, ordered them to put on immersion suits, and inflated the life raft before putting out a distress call. They received word that another fishing vessel was on the way to assist, and the captain ordered all crew to board the life raft.

While the crew were fortunate enough to be rescued, the F/V GRACE MARIE was a total loss. The fishing vessel was valued at $650,000.

Cause of the Sinking

After analyzing the evidence, the NTSB concluded that the source of the flooding was hull failure under the engine room. The agency noted that the exterior of the hull along the keel and under the engine room had been covered with double steel plating that had been installed approximately nine years earlier to reinforce deteriorated steel portions of the hull.

This type of repair and reinforcement is common in uninspected commercial fishing vessels. However, based on what NTSB reports, vessel owners might want to think twice about relying on this type of repair in the future.

Problem with Double Plating

When a hull is repaired through double plating, instead of cutting out the wasted sections and replacing the damaged metal with new plating, a cover of plating is simply added over the existing flawed metal.

Double plating is a poor choice for two reasons. First, the NTSB explains that double plating can concentrate the stress on the repaired area. Second, once doubler plating has been installed, it becomes next to impossible to assess the condition of the hull. For those reasons, the agency recommends that doubler plating be used as no more than a temporary solution. For a permanent repair, owners are advised to remove wasted steel in the hull and insert new plating.

Problems When Owners Take Shortcuts

Double plate repairs are just one example of a situation where the owner of a fishing vessel can be taking unnecessary risks just to save money on maintenance or repairs. In this situation, the losses were purely financial, but many times, crew members are not so lucky.

The team at Latti & Anderson LLP is dedicated to protecting those who work at sea. When shortcuts result in injuries, we fight tenaciously to get fair compensation for pain, suffering, and other losses. If you have questions about an accident or injury on the water, we would be happy to discuss your options for relief. Schedule a confidential consultation today.