A FAULTY life raft was found uninflated underwater after Joanna C sank off the coast of Newhaven "adversely affected" the crew's chances of survival.

Joanna C capsized off the coast of Newhaven, after one of the boat’s dredge bars got tangled with a line of whelk pots, a plastic drum used to catch whelks.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that there had been a life raft on the ship that was released but it did not inflate.

The raft was not manufactured to “meet any specific standard” and had been due a service in December 2019 - almost a year before the tragedy on November 21, 2020.

Images captured by a diver show the uninflated life raft still attached to the sunken ship.

The Argus: The life raft underwater still attached to the ship. Picture from MAIBThe life raft underwater still attached to the ship. Picture from MAIB

Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents for the MAIB, said: “Unfortunately, Joanna C’s ‘float-free’ life raft arrangements did not work as expected.

"Although the life raft was released from its cradle as the vessel sank, it did not come to the surface and inflate.

“This significantly impacted the chances of survival for the two crew in the water, only one of whom survived.

The Argus: Joanna C's life raft canister as recoveredJoanna C's life raft canister as recovered

“The MAIB’s investigation found that the uninflated life raft had insufficient buoyancy to trigger the gas inflation system, leaving it suspended mid-water still attached to the sunken vessel.

“Furthermore, the life raft had not been manufactured to meet any specific standard, although this was acceptable for a small fishing vessel at the time.

"The safety message is that it is vital to ensure that lifesaving appliances will work as expected.

"Where ‘float-free’ arrangements are in place, the life raft must have sufficient buoyancy to trigger the inflation mechanism once it has been released from the cradle as the vessel sinks.”

The Argus: How Joanna C's life raft was found. Pictures from MAIBHow Joanna C's life raft was found. Pictures from MAIB

Joanna C's life raft was tested against a brand new life raft. It was found to have less initial buoyancy and required more force to be inflated compared to the new equipment.

A computer model of the scallop dredger also revealed it “failed to meet any of the stability criteria” in different conditions.

The MAIB has made two safety recommendations in regards to stability requirements for fishing boats and buoyancy requirements for life rafts.

The Argus: Robert MorleyRobert Morley

Robert Morley and Adam Harper drowned in the tragedy while ship's captain David Bickerstaff was pulled from the water by rescuers.

The report found that Adam, a 26-year-old deckhand, was trapped inside the ship as it went down.

While Robert clung on to a lifebuoy for a period of time before he eventually drowned. 

The Argus: Joanna C. Picture courtesy of the ownerJoanna C. Picture courtesy of the owner

Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, said: “I welcome this report and its recommendations regarding stability and the safety of life-saving equipment.

“I will be raising these recommendations with my ministerial colleagues to make sure they are implemented.

“While no report can truly bring closure to the families of Robert and Adam, I hope that the implementation of these recommendations will mean that this will not happen again in future.”