Jetlag and fatigue may have led to a fire aboard the French-flagged cableship Ile De Sein, suggests France’s maritime accident investigation agency, BEAmer. Long-haul flights can lead to mistakes with serious consequences if efforts are not made to reduce their effects.
In the case of Ile De Sein, bunkering operations were underway in Honolulu. The engineering team carrying out the operation had arrived the previous day on a flight from France. By 1930 on 5 May 2015 the marine diesel oil tank nu,ber two was nearly full. After sounding, the cadet closed the ball-valve actuated by a counterweight but omitted to close the cap.
Soon after an engineer was preparing, from the control cabin, the shifting of the filling from the MDO tank number two starboard to the MDO tank number one centre. An operator error during the filling valve opening – closing sequence on the tanks, resulted in the tank venting pipe and sounding circuit overpressure.
Without the cap fuel vapour was able to escape through the sounding tube and, as flammable vapours will, found an amenable source of ignition.
A well-drilled firefighting team tackled the blaze appropriately and extinguished it. Says BEAmer: “The most important damages were located on electrical bunched cables (6600 volts), control organs and cabinets for DA1 and 2. Restarting of the mooring generating set after repair of its power supply.”
Although BEAmer says: “The engineer team who was coordinating the bunkering operation joined at Honolulu on the day before. The fatigue, due to the joining travel from France and to the jet lag, had probably contributed to the operating error in controlling the MDO tank filling valves” it offers no recommendation regarding mitigation of the effect of jetlag and travel fatigue and limits itself to “The crew’s attention should be drawn to the fact that the closure of a fuel tank sounding pipe, only by the ball-valve, do not provide vapour tightness.”
Unfortunately, the report does not determine whether a checklist was required by onboard procedures. Checklists, although much derided, are a tool designed to reduce the chances of error in sequential tasks.
Honolulu is 11 hours behind France and the more than 15 hour flight crosses a dozen time zones. Such long flights disrupt the body and brain’s natural cycle, the circadian rhythm, and the engineers’ bodies would still have been operating on ‘Paris time’. Such long flights incur fatigue, even if one sleeps during the flight.
To put that into context it would take between five and ten days to recover from jetlag and travel fatigue. Some recommendations say allow a day’s rest for each time zone crossed, but this may not be possible in a real world setting. The engineers aboard Ile De Sein had, at most, 24 hours.
Nevertheless, it is important for shipping companies to take account of it in their schedules.
So, work in advance if you can, here are some recommendations:
- Be fully rested before you travel. Don’t make the mistake of making your self tired so you’ll sleep on the flight.
- If you can, gradually adjust your meal and sleep patterns to fit those of your destination. Often this may not be a practical option for a seafarer but if you can do it will help.
- Your travel arrangements may not be yours to decide but if you can, try and arrive in daylight. On arrival stay awake until until your normal sleep time local time.
- Once on the plane set your watch to the time at your destination, it’s a psychological trick that may help.
- Stay well hydrated during the flight and avoid alcohol or coffee if you can.
- Stretch your legs, walk up and down, exercise during the flight. This is good practice anyway because it will help reduce the chances of deep vein thrombosis.
- If the flight is long enough sleep on the plane at the same time as you would sleep at your destination.
- On arrival, get as much daylight as possible and get some exercise.
- Taking doses of melatonin, the so-called ‘sleep hormone’, may help but it does have some risk so only take it under medical supervision.
- Do not take sleeping pills for the flight.
How do you deal with jetlag? What does your company do to reduce it effects on seafarers?Tel us in the comments section below.