Sixteen of 21 seafarers have been evacuated from the one-year old Liberian-registered bulker Hermann Schoening due to phosphine gas leaking from cargo holds into the accommodation block. Phosphine gas is a fumigant widely used on grain carriers and is often generated by aluminium phosphide tablets, nicked in parts of Latin America as Tablets of Love because of their use by suicidees.
An investigation is underway but the scale of the incident suggests that the gas may have entered the accommodation block through the ventilation system. Phosphine gas has been known to enter the bridge and lead to a fatality. In another incident, which is the subject of the MAC podcast “The Case of the Tablets of Love”, the gas entered a cabin through pinholes between the cargo hold and the cabin.
Phosphine gas has a characteristic ‘garlicky’ smell but that may be masked by other odours onboard.
The Hermann Schoening incident is an example of a particular class of incident in which space that would not normally be regarded as confined spaces share the hazard of a confined space due to direct atmospheric linkage.