The steel motor fishing vessel Crystal Sea was launched from Herd and McKenzie’s Buckie yard in 1978. She was owned by Mr A Johnson of Port Seton and carried the fishing number of LH97. She measured 15.12m x 5.67m x 1.73m and weighed 23.5 gross tons. She was purchased by Mr Brian Robb of Scalloway in 1997 and renamed Fraoch Ban. Registered in Lerwick her fishing number was LK966.
On August 15th 1999 the Fraoch Ban left for a day’s fishing under the command of her owner and skipper Brian Robb of Scalloway with a crew of three men including his father. She was trawling for sand eels in an area off the south east coast of Bressay. Around 18.50 she was in the process of taking onboard the catch from the fifth trawl of the day when the crew noticed a list to port. At the time it was estimated she was carrying approximstely 25 tonnes of bulk cargo in her fish hold. As the list progressively worsened the skipper contacted the fishing vessel Sarah Joan which was nearby to request assistance. The Coastguard were also alerted and dispatched the Lerwick Lifeboat and the Sumburgh Search and Rescue helicopter to the scene.
Finally the Fraoch Ban heeled over slowly – it was estimated she took 5 minutes to completely capsize. The crew scrambled from her shelterdeck to her side and finally upturned hull as she rolled but managed to release her liferaft when she was on her side. Expecting the imminent arrival of the Sarah Joan the crew originally intended to wait on the upturned hull for rescue. However when it became clear diesel oil was leaking from her fuel tanks and surfacing around the wreck, the decision was taken to abandon ship. Unfortunately the liferaft, which was on loan to the vessel from her agents while her own raft was being serviced, had not been secured to the vessel by a painter and had floated to some 50-100 yards distant. Two of the crew swam out and retrieved the raft, and returned to collect the remaining two who had also taken to the water. Unfortunately one was by then unconscious and no longer breathing but once aboard the liferaft the unconscious crew member responded to First Aid and began breathing again.
Shortly after the crew abandoned ship the Sarah Joan and the Sumburgh Search and Rescue helicopter arrived almost simultaneously at around 19.15, and the crew transferred from the raft to the Sarah Joan. The previously unconscious crew member was then airlifted from the Sarah Joan by the Sumburgh Search and Rescue helicopter and taken to hospital. He was was released two days later having made a full recovery. The remaining three crew were transferred from Sarah Joan to the Lerwick Lifeboat which had arrived at the scene shortly after the airlift, and were landed back at Lerwick.
The Fraoch Ban sank around 10 minutes after being abandoned by her crew, and lies on her port side on a sandy bottom in 28m of water, a short distance offshore approximately half way between the Bard of Bressay and the Isle of Noss.
An enquiry in to the sinking was held by the UK Government Marine Accidents Investigation Branch (MAIB) concluding that the vessel most likely capsized and sank as a result of the lack of containment of the bulk fish cargo destabilising the vessel. This problem was possibly exacerbated by a failure of the non-return valve in the cross flow pipe between her port and starboard fuel tanks. They cited the fact that although the vessel had been tested and certified to carry boxed cargo, she had not been tested or certified to carry bulk cargo. The Fraoch Ban did have pound boards installed in the fish hold, which served to contain cargo in manageable and safe weight distribution but it was probable, that once the vessel’s bulk cargo attained approximately 25 tonnes the divisions created by the pound boards were not sufficient to restrict the free movement of bulk cargo through the hold adequately to maintain the vessel’s safe stability.
The wreck of the Fraoch Ban lies in the position 60° 08.194’N, 01° 02.680’W in 27 metres rising 3 metres from the flat sandy seabed in Hope Wick between Bressay and North Ness. The wreck is still largely in tact and lying upright with a forty five degree list to port. The wreck is densely covered in marine growth and a great subject for underwater photographers.