Sep 022008

Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation, Bundesstelle für Seeunfalluntersuchun, BSU, found what it describes as ‘glaring violations’ of safety rules during its investigation into the death of a seafarer aboard the 7,646 gross tonnes stern trawler Jan Maria in 2006. It also noted serious shortfalls in the document-keeping regime aboard ship.

While the trawl was being set for fishing 130 nautical miles off the west coast of Ireland, a line suddenly came under tension and trapped a seafarer against a vertical roller at the stern of the vessel. The seafarer suffered severe injuries to his chest and died on board the vessel shortly afterwards.

Among issues noted in the BSU investigation report is that the area of the incident could be seen directly from the bridge, where winches were controlled, due to obstruction by a crane pillar. Although adequate elsewhere in the vessel, video cameras covering the area were subject to frequent interference and the black and white video monitor was indistinct and fuzzy, making it difficult to see, especially at night.

Several emergency winch stop buttons were positioned around the deck but were difficult to find. Says the BSU report: “…the Master and the Mate were unaware of the existence of the emergency stop equipment for interruption of winch operation on the fishing deck.”

Concern was also raised about language used on the vessel and potentially confusing hand-signal communications used for critical operations on deck – ambient noise levels were too high to permit use of radios.

Full details can be found in the report and, although the vessel in this case was a trawler, it is possible for similar situations to occur on other vessel types.

Among the lessons to learn: If an area of potential hazard is not directly visible from the point of control of equipment in that area then appropriate steps need to be taken to enhance safety and ensure a timely response in event of an accident. If the area is covered by video cameras ensure than the camera lens is clean, that interference is minimised and the video system optimally adjusted to give a clear picture, especially at night.

Consideration should also be given to providing an additional safety watch when someone is working that area.

Ensure that all crew are familiar with the location and operation of emergency stop controls and that such controls are clearly and unambiguously marked and very visible and the location clearly indicated by signage.

If hand signals must be used ensure that they are standardised, uniformly applied and that all crew are familiar with them.

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