Bosun Jack was dead. His body lay under the worklights beside a pool of blood. The instrument of his death was a short distance away. One thing is certain, his killer still hunts seafarers.
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We’ll call him Jack. Not his real name but he was a real person. He was 56, and had been at sea for 30 years. On January 11, 2007 he was the boatswain aboard the Tasman Resolution. He knew the ship well, he’d been aboard for six weeks this time but he’d served out three previous contracts aboard her and a sister ship. Along with the chief officer he’d taught the third officer how to handle the ship’s gantry crane. The third officer, we’ll call him Charlie, was 26. He’d been aboard for 10 weeks. It was his second contract since getting his certificate of competency. There were also three ABs working with Charlie and Jack that night, Dave, Ed and Frank.
Registered in the Marshall Islands, The Tasman Resolution is a 174 metre general cargo ship of 18,936 gross tonnes built in 1988.
The Gantry Cranes
Six cargo holds are serviced by two 40-tonne capacity gantry cranes running on rails either side of the deck to open and close hatches and load and discharge cargo.
The clearance between the hatch coamings and the machinery of the gantry crane leg is about 500mm, 20 inches but beside hatches 3 and 5, because of a king beam, the clearance reduces to just 150mm, around six inches.
The Bosun’s Last Load
The Tasman Resolution berthed starboard side at a wharf at Port Tauranga, New Zealand on the morning of 11 January 2007 and an hour later started loading timber and logs. About mid-afternoon a gang of stevedores starting preparing the number 4 hold to load liner board. One of them operated Number One gantry crane.
At 1800 hours, third officer Charlie, Bosun Jack, and the three Abs, Dick, Ed and Frank, began their shift with bosun Jack wearing a bright yellow hardhat and dark blue overalls.
The stevedores had loaded 80 rolls of liner board when rain began to fall at around 2100. They decided to go on standby and told Charlie to put the cover on hatch 4 and open hatch 5 ready for loading cargo and put its cover on top of hatch 3. The stevedores left the ship except for the driver of the gantry crane who stayed in the control cab and slept.
Able Seaman Ed climbed into the cab of the gantry crane fourteen metres above the main deck to move the pontoon covers. Third Officer Charlie, Bosun Jack and Able seaman Dick worked on deck to help reposition them.
At 22.38, Ed was moving the gantry crane to carry the forwardmost pontoon cover from number 5 hatch to hatch 3. Meanwhile, Charlie walked long the starboard side of the ship towards the accommodations aft.
Two minutes later, at hatch 3, Dick unhooked the pontoon cover from the gantry crane. Ed then drove the crane backwards towards hatch five to pick up the last pontoon cover. By now, Charlie was beside hatch 5 and spoke briefly to Jack, who was standing on top of the cover then Charlie continued on to the accommodation.
Bosun Jack finished connecting the crane hook to the pontoon cover and Able Seaman Dick saw him climb off hatch 5 at 22.43 inboard of the gantry crane track. It was the last time he was seen alive.
Thirty two seconds later, according to the port’s closed circuit TV cameras, hearing what he thought was Charlie’s voice with the signal to hoist, Ed hoisted the cover from hatch 5 and moved the crane forward to hatch 3, where he lowered the cover.
The crane passed the king beam, and its narrow, six inch gap, about 30 seconds after lifting the cover from hatch 5.
Nobody knows why Jack was still near the gantry crane leg when it started moving, why he didn’t respond to the sirens and flashing lights that were triggered when the crane started, or exactly what happened in the next few seconds. Possibly, his overalls were caught in the machinery of the gantry crane. Unable to pull himself free, he was pushed inexorably into the tiny 6 inch gap between the king beam and the crane machinery.
The last moments of Bosun Jack’s life simply can’t be imagined.
At 22.47, Able Seaman Dick unhooked the cover now on hatch 3, walked across hatch 4 to the open hatch 5 and, ironically, rigged a safety guard, unaware that Bosun Jack’s body was just a few feet away.
In the cab of the gantry crane, Ed put the hook on the quayside where stevedores attached the hook beam, then he woke the crane driver, climbed down from the cab and went to the accommodation.
Stevedores took over the loading, which finished at 23.30. The stevedores had not actually been on the deck of the ship, they were lifted into the cargo hold in a man cage and it was only after finishing that the stevedore hatchman stepped down onto the deck, saw the remains of Bosun Jack, and raised the alarm.
Investigators found Bosun Jack’s body a little aft of the king beam protrusion. His safety helmet was about a metre behind his body and his right shoe at the forward end of the protrusion. Just below a 400v reefer plug box was a pool of blood.
A pathologist’s report concluded that Jack died of massive trauma to his chest and abdomen.
The gantry crane had its own story to tell. Pieces of dark blue cloth from Bosun Jack’s overalls were found in the timing pinion on the after inboard leg. Sometime before the incident, the timing pinion had been damaged and a temporary had been made which left the side of the pinion unguarded and able to snatch at clothing.
Pieces of clothing and human tissue were found in the main rack teeth of the inboard side of the gantry track.
True, there were emergency stop wires mounted on the outboard gantry crane structure, but they didn’t go around the aft end of the structure and there were no wires around the inboard side of the crane.
There were proximity switches on each of the legs, but they only operated if something was actually on the track.
If Bosun Jack had been trapped by the timing pinion inboard he would not have been able to reach any of the safety switches that could have stopped the crane and saved his life.
Think Like The Bee Gees
Remember the Bee Gee song “Staying Alive”? Think about staying alive.
If you have a gantry crane on your ship, take a look at it. Are moving parts properly guarded? Are safety devices within easy reach in an emergency? Do they cover the necessary areas?
Look along the track, are there places where someone can get crushed? Be aware of them and, if you can, mark them.
Colour may also have been an issue in Bosun Jack’s death. He wore dark blue overalls, hard to see at night especially when it’s raining. High visibility clothing with reflective stripes is easier to see, and the easier you are to see, the longer you’ll live.
At the time, the crane itself was painted dark red. It’s hard to really judge the movement of a dark object at night. The traditional warning colours of yellow and black stripes are easier to see and more instinctive. A lick of paint is better than a drop of blood.
Visibility from the gantry crane cab was poor. Ed didn’t know who’s voice he heard and only assumed that it was Charlie’s instructions to hoist, he couldn’t see him. It’s better to rely on radio communications or very visible, unambiguous hand signals with a system of confirmation that orders have been received and understood. It works for hamburgers and it’ll work on your ship.
Try and develop and awareness of what’s going on around you and where other people are on deck.
Bosun Jack’s 30 year seafaring career ended suddenly at 22.43 and 30 seconds on January 11, 2007. Let’s hope that learning the lessons of his death means that your career will last a little longer.
This is Bob Couttie wishing you safe sailing.