Jul 112008

It’s time for the International Maritime Orgnisation, IMO, to take action to stem the unacceptably high, and growing, number of deaths of seafarers in confined/enclosed space incidents says the UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch in an emergency Safety Bulletin issued 11th June. The digest follows the publication of an investigation into the deaths of three seafarers aboard the EERV Viking Islay in September last year. Shipping industry bodies must also also act.

Since September, MAIB has conducted investigation into three incidents costing a toital of six lives. In addition to Viking Islay, two seafarers died of ashphyxiation aboard Sava Lake in Janury and another seafarer died on the Saga Rose in June.

Says MAIB: “Co-incident with the MAIB investigations, the Marine Accident Investigators International Forum (MAIIF) identified the large number of fatalities in the shipping industry worldwide which were related to work in confined or enclosed spaces and considered that the occurrence of such accidents was increasing. Accordingly, in October 2007, MAIIF tasked its representative from Vanuatu to research the incidence of this type of accident with a view to the submission of a paper to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). To date, responses from 18 administrations identify 120 fatalities and 123 injuries resulting from entry into confined spaces since 1991. These statistics do not include the fatalities from Sava Lake or Saga Rose.”

Underlying the deaths is complacency leading to lapses in procedures, lack of knowledge, potentially dangerous spaces not being identified and would be rescuers acting on instinct and emotion rather than knowledge and training.

Says MAIB: “It is essential that the IMO recognises the unacceptably large fatality rate in this area and takes the lead in identifying initiatives to improve this very poor safety record. It is also vital that all shipping industry bodies raise the awareness of the continuing and increasing number of deaths in enclosed spaces to show that no-one is immune to the physical effects of the lack of oxygen or harmful gases. While the holding of breath might seem a logical step to a person entering a tank ‘for a few seconds’ or to a would-be rescuer, it is all too frequently the last life sustaining breath he or she ever takes.”

MAIB makes several urgent recommendations: Ship owners and managers, and industry bodies and organisations should identify and implement measures aimed at improving the identification of all dangerous and potentially dangerous spaces and increasing compliance with the safe working practices required when working in such compartments; Individually and collectively raise the awareness of the continuing high incidence of fatalities of seafarers working in enclosed spaces.

It also recommends that the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency co-sponsors, with the Maritime Administration of Vanuatu and other concerned administrations, a submission to the IMO aimed at raising the awareness of the number of fatalities on ships which have occurred in enclosed spaces, and highlighting the need for measures to be identified which will reduce this unnecessary loss of life, such as the identification and marking of all potentially dangerous spaces.

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