The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has concluded that a combination of rough weather, existing fatigue fissure damage in the deck plating, and inappropriate ballasting eventually led to the break-up and sinking of the bulk carrier "FLARE" on the morning of 16 January 1998. The loss of life was probably exacerbated by the lack of information from the vessel regarding the location of the distress situation; the MAYDAY was short, incomplete and difficult to understand, and the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) did not provide any information.
The Board has identified safety deficiencies related to the accessibility and stowage of the EPIRB, the carriage of immersion suits on vessels operating in waters where hypothermia can reduce the survival time of persons in the water, the effect of high frequency stress loads induced by vessel pounding in association with inadequate ballasting and the need for stricter adherence to approved loading manuals. The Board has made five marine safety recommendations to address a number of the safety deficiencies uncovered in the investigation and to alert the international maritime community to changes that need to be made to reduce the risks to human life.
The vessel was en route from Rotterdam to Montreal in severe weather conditions, and was approximately 45 miles southwest of the islands of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon when she broke in two. The stern section sank within 30 minutes. An extensive search and rescue operation was undertaken in very difficult conditions. There were 25 crewmembers on board; four survived. The bow section sank four days later off Nova Scotia.
In order to better understand why the vessel broke up, the TSB, in July 1998, undertook a dive operation in 100 metres of water using a remotely operated vehicle to videotape the sunken bow section. Preliminary analysis using the aerial photographs and the underwater survey of the vessel indicated that fatigue fissure damage in the main deck plating adjacent to grain-loading ports near the mid-length of the "FLARE" might have existed prior to the hull failure.
In most accidents involving bulk carriers, since the early 1990s, the absence of any distress messages would indicate their loss was sudden and most likely due to structural failure, rapid flooding and loss of buoyancy/stability. As in this occurrence, most involved ships were at least 15 years old, and a high proportion were lost or had the potential to be lost through structural damage and/or heavy weather. Worldwide between 1990 and 1997, a total of 99 bulk carriers sank, with an associated loss of 654 lives.