Jul 042009

Let’s be brutal and ask what it is about enclosed spaces that seems to attract seafarers like lemmings to a cliff. Yes, I appreciate that may be unkind, even in poor taste and possibly disrespectful of the dead but years of observing such avoidable incidents are furiously frustrating.

Why is it so difficult to get across the simple message: Without oxygen you die. MAC suspects it is, in part, due to the mealy mouthed approach in much training. Frankly “An atmosphere of less than 21 per cent oxygen is not capable of sustaining life” doesn’t mean much to someone whose first language is not English –  nor a goodly number of folk whose first language is English – who may not understand the delicate nuances of a statement that would better be rewritten as “With less than 21 per cent oxygen you will die”.

Britannia P&I Club’s latest Risk Watch gives yet another example:

“The incident occurred on a bulk carrier loaded with coal,whilst on passage at sea.The Chief Officer decided to inspect hydraulic pipes between no.1 and no. 2 cargo holds.The Chief Officer, deck cadet and carpenter had opened the man-hole inside hold no.2 port side upper cofferdam through which the hydraulic pipes passed.The deck cadet had opened the access trunk cover, then was instructed to obtain an air wrench to open the manhole to the upper cofferdam.The carpenter experienced difficulty in undoing the nuts on the cover and sent the cadet to bring another air wrench and some de-rusting agent to loosen the nuts.The job was difficult and,while resting, the carpenter accidentally dropped the air wrench into no.2 cargo hold.The carpenter entered the hold in an attempt to retrieve the air wrench but collapsed due to lack of oxygen.

“The Chief Officer then entered the hold and called to the deck cadet to assist; both men also collapsed. Subsequently, the bosun, noticing that there was no one on deck,went to investigate.He called another deck cadet to assist and also entered the hold.Using ropes they managed to rescue, first the deck cadet, then the carpenter and finally the Chief Officer.However, during the rescue operation the bosun lost consciousness.The second deck cadet rushed to the bridge and reported the incident to the Master,who immediately instructed the 2nd and 3rd Officers to collect a SCBA and oxygen cylinder to render assistance.

Whilst the bosun, carpenter and deck cadet were rescued and revived, the Chief Officer did not recover.”

One dead, three unconscious, just for the sake of an air wrench. Only the second deck cadet had the nous to do the right thing.

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