Enclosed space hazards remain one of the most significant threat to seafarers and one that that has received much attention but little action over the years. That may be about to change. Any change is likely to be glacial, as the issue of lifeboat safety shows, but any change at all is to be welcomed.
Figures gathered by the Bahamas registry at the request of the Maritime Accident Investigators International Forum, MAIIF, count at least 93 fatalities since 1997, the true figure is certainly far higher since little input came from flag states under whom the majority of seafarers work and for whom seafarer safety is not as well-developed as it should be.
With at least two seafarers dying every month in enclosed spaces, it is an issue that deserves immediate attention and effective action. That much of the industry management appears to be in a curious state of denial, fondly believing that the problem mainly applies to tankers, which in fact constitute a minority of the incidents.
Bahamas has recommended commonsense measures: Improved enclosed spaces training at nautical colleges, a change to SOLAS rules to require monthly enclosed space entry drills and the carriage of remote oxygen analysing equipment.
Sweden, too, has weighed by tabling a paper on enclosed space entry procedures and the risks of oxygen-depleting cargoes.
MAIIF has expressed concern at a number of problems including a lack of understanding of the dangers, inappropriate or unavailable personal protective equipment, and poor management oversight.
In a message to delegates to the IMO Dangerous Goods Sub Committee in September,IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos said: “Too many avoidable marine accidents resulting in fatalities or serious injuries continue to happen because of human shortcomings, such as lack of knowledge of the dangers concerned, inadequate risk assessment, failure to use personal protective equipment or inadequate safety management systems… which, according to accident statistics, remains one of the most common causes of seafarer deaths. There is an urgent need to examine why this problem continues to persist … As this Sub-Committee is to act as coordinator, no stone should be left unturned in your deliberations and the questions you may ask yourselves include whether the fundamental problem is related to non-compliance with existing regulations or to gaps in the current regulatory regime. In addition, you may draw on many useful insights gained from accident investigations worldwide, including those submitted to this session.
“The heavy toll on seafarers’ lives from the loss of smaller and aging bulk carriers carrying high-density cargoes is also a cause for concern. We need to know more about why these tragic accidents continue to happen and I sincerely hope that the expertise held within this Sub Committee could help us to find effective measures to address this problem.”