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n February 17, 2010, at approximately 14:23 local time,
the sail training barquentine
was knocked
down and rapidly capsized after encountering a squall off the
coast of Brazil. All 64 crew, faculty and students successfully
abandoned the vessel into life rafts and were rescued two days
later by two merchant vessels and taken to Rio de Janeiro.
That everyone survived is remarkable. It was not an easy aban-
donment. Several life rafts could not be launched, and a distress
call could not be made. Much of the credit goes to safety prepar-
edness: there two times the number of life rafts onboard as re-
quired by regulation; the life jackets had recently been moved to
deck lockers to improve accessibility; and regular safety drills
had taken place. Youth and
agility also played a significant
role, though conditions in the
life rafts proved difficult. The
emergency position indicating
radio beacon (EPIRB) functioned
as designed and its position was
established within an hour of
the knockdown. However, the
contact number for the EPIRB
was long out of date. A false
alarmwas suspected, and it
took many hours before a com-
prehensive search and rescue
attempt was initiated.
was registered in
Barbados and the owner was a
Bahamian company. However,
the vessel's ties to Canada were
substantial. The charterer was a
Canadian school; management
was located in Canada; and
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, was its
home port. Because of this, and
the fact that many witnesses
were located in Canada, the
Transportation Safely Board of
Canada (TSB) investigated the accident. The Board's report was
published on September 29, 2011; the full text, related docu-
ments and animations can be found at the TSB's website:
Beyond “common wisdom”
Initial reports on the capsize all seemed to agree that the knock-
down was caused by a vicious microburst associated with a thun-
derstorm and that there was nothing that could have been done
to avoid it. This quickly became “common wisdom” and the focus
of media comment moved on to the lengthy delay in recovering
the survivors.
But the evidence available to the TSB, which included video and
photographs, along with statements from those on deck at the
time, suggested that the winds never exceeded Beaufort force
7—weather conditions that
had encountered many
times in its twenty years of ocean voyaging. Satellite imagery
was obtained and weather ex-
perts were consulted. In com-
parison to thunderstorms
known to have produced micro-
bursts, it was clear that this one
was not sufficiently formed to
do so.
So what happened? To find out,
it was quickly decided that a
thorough assessment of Con-
cordia’s stability was required.
We were fortunate to have
good data to work from: the
ship's plans, a copy of the sta-
bility booklet, onboard observa-
tions, plus the video and photo-
graphs. All this proved suffi-
cient to allow one of our naval
architects to develop a com-
puter model of the vessel and
analyze its stability (a full report
on the vessel's stability assess-
ment can be found on the
TSB's website). The model was
then used to generate the right-
ing arm curve and compare it
to the theoretical wind heeling
arm curve for the sail plan in use at the time and a range of wind
speeds.* These calculations were verified against the known
conditions and events of the day to ensure reasonable accuracy.
The results were intriguing.
The knockdown and capsize of the training vessel
was initially attributed to a microburst accompanying a storm.
However, a detailed investigation after the event revealed a
sequence of overlooked events that contributed to the accident.
These are worthy of the industry's consideration.
By Jonathan Seymour
Canada’s TSB was charged with investigating the
capsize of the sail-training barquentine Concordia.
Photo: Matt Jaques photography