Walking across open hatches can be an invitation to tragedy. When the hatch cover is icy then the chances for disaster are even greater, as a new report from the UK Maritime Accident Investigation Branch makes very clear.
On 17 December 2011, an able bodied seaman (AB) fell approximately 25m into a partially open hold on the container vessel Tempanos while it was berthed in the port of Felixstowe. The AB, Jose Gonzalez, died of multiple injuries.
There were no witnesses to the accident, but the available evidence indicated that he probably slipped on a patch of ice while walking across a hatch cover that was partially covering an open hold.
The investigation found that it was occasional practice for some crew members on Tempanos to walk across hatch covers above partly open holds. Although there was clear guidance available regarding safe cargo operations on container ships, it was not always communicated to vessels calling at Felixstowe.
Tempanos’s safety management system did not contain sufficient guidance or instructions to the crew about the hazards of walking on partially open hatch covers. A recommendation has been made to the ship’s management company to
review its safe working procedures. The container terminal’s managers have also been recommended to conduct safety meetings with the crews of container vessels prior to commencing cargo work.
Says the MAIB report: “The disparity between the container terminal staff’s understanding of safe working practices and that of the vessel’s crew, illustrates the need for closer co-operation. It is accepted that the container trade relies on fast turnaround times, but achieving the necessary level of co-operation need not be an onerous burden. It was normal practice for container terminal staff to visit the vessel in order to discuss cargo work, and an additional discussion on safe working practices would not add significantly to the turnaround time. Such a discussion should focus on the behaviour expected of the crew and the demarcation of responsibilities.