Freak accident costs a man’s fingers and livelihood

Lookout! Issue 33, June 2015

A young man lost fingers from both of his hands in a serious harm incident while working on board a fishing vessel at sea.
Trawling gear
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Trawling gear from the vessel.

The accident occurred after the owner/skipper and his single crewman had hauled the first trawl. They had shot the trawl gear and, at the 400 metres mark, the warp wire caught underneath a shackle, so the skipper kicked it free causing the shackle to break. The skipper then tied two ropes to the aft wire to release pressure off the shackle, using a process known in the industry as “stopping”.

They then replaced the broken shackle and started winching loose wire onto the drum. The loose wire had kinked several times and the crew member was unkinking it as the skipper was winding it on. Suddenly the stopping ropes broke and the warp wire closed on the crewman’s hands.

The skipper, realising what had happened, went into the wheelhouse and pulled the boat out of gear to release the weight from the wire. He untangled the man’s badly damaged fingers from the wire, lay him down on a bunk and gave him painkillers, then called for Police to despatch a rescue helicopter.

Once he’d pulled up the trawl gear, the skipper steamed to a bay to rendezvous with the helicopter, which airlifted the injured man to hospital. The man lost all of the fingers except for the thumb on his right hand, and the tips of three fingers on his left hand.


  • This accident resulted in serious injuries and permanent disability. The man was not a novice, having had previous experience on other vessels, and there were no other contributing factors such as fatigue, pressure, drugs or alcohol. The accident has serious long-term implications for the young man’s career, as it is unlikely that he will be able to work on the deck of a trawler again.
  • An unfortunate combination of factors was considered likely to have caused it, rather than a single isolated event. It is considered unlikely these circumstances would align again in the future and cause another such accident.
  • When he was winding the trawl gear in, the skipper found that the net had snagged on the bottom, which is probably what caused the rope to break and set off the chain of events that led to the accident.
  • The men’s actions and the conditions leading up to the accident were consistent with standard industry practices. However, while the use of shackles and rope is relatively common, hammer locks (a type of wire rope or chain connector) are stronger than shackles, and chain is considered better than rope for “stopping”. There is probably no other practical way to remove kinks from wire rope than to untwist it by hand.

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