Something is deeply wrong with an industry in which so many can die so often in tragedies entirely avoidable. One death, three injured and one escape from a hold containing wood pellets aboard the Polish-flagged bulker Corina this week brings the number of confined space casualties to eleven within the past month. Such losses are unacceptable.
You might not smell trouble but you might see it coming, even if it wears a mask
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We’ll call him Danek, not his real name but he was a real person, a Polish able seaman and one of nine crew aboard the 30 years old 81 metre general cargo ship Monika, flagged in Antigua Barbuda. Danek’s cabin is in the forward part of the accommodation which overhangs the aft bulkhead of one of Monika’s two holds by about half a metre. Next to his cabin is the ship’s hospital.
Following the deaths of two ship’s officers aboard the general cargo ship Sally Ann C off the West African coast seafarer’s union Nautilus International has called for the UK to lead a ‘new and concerted drive to end the appalling litany’ of seafarer fatalities in enclosed spaces.
Investigations into the incident – which took place off the coast of west Africa – are underway, but it is known that the chief officer and chief engineer died after entering a hold where timber was stowed and the second officer had to be rescued after losing consciousness when he went to the aid of his colleagues.
Two men, a Russian chief officer and a Ukrainian chief engineer have died in a hold containing timber while a third, a Filipino second officer who attempted to rescue them collapsed by survived. The incident is under investigation by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch while the report will not be available for some time the incident does highlight the confined space hazards of timber in cargo holds and the continuing problem of would-be rescuers being overcome while attempting to recover victims.
OGP, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, has issued a safety alert following the death of a worker at a construction/rig repair yard in Singapore in May this year. The worker had entered an enclosed space which was inerted with argon gas for a welding operation.
Argon does not do much which is why it is useful in processes like welding where a non-combustible atmosphere is needed to prevent fire and explosions. It can also kill, as this case shows.
Too often there is more than one casualty. The first victim is joined by those who follow attempting a rescue. About two thirds of casualties are would-be rescuers.
Two seafarers died of carbon monoxide poisoning whilst asleep on a fishing vessel in Whitby, which demonstrates that lessons over several years, warnings and alerts have had little impact. Poorly maintained equipment being used for purposes for which they were not designed. refusal to use alarms that save lives, on vessel not designed for people to sleep in lead to tragedy.
In the case of scallop-dredger Eshcol the two seafarers went to sleep tired and cold. doors and windows were closed. Heaters on the vessel did not work so to keep warm the seafarers lit the grill on the vessel’s four-year old cooker which had probably never been serviced. Neither the guidance for the installation of gas appliances on board small fishing vessels nor the cooker manufacturer’s instructions had been followed when the cooker was fitted. The metal gauze in the grill was holed and corroded, causing extraordinarily high levels of CO emissions.
Tests showed that when the grill was lit the resulting flames were predominantly yellow, indicating inefficient combustion. The grill was turned off following the activation of a personal gas detector which indicated that high levels of carbon monoxide were being emitted. Close inspection of the grill showed that the grill’s steel mesh was corroded and holed in several places
Confined/Enclosed spaces not only continue to take their toll, says the UK P&I Club, but are on the increase despite recent measures to reduce such incidents. The club has issued a refresher of previous articles and information in its latest Loss Prevention Bulletin to bring entry into enclosed spaces to the forefront of people’s minds in light of recent deaths.
Says UK P&I: “Despite the wealth of information available, many deaths have been caused by seafarers being unaware of, or ignoring the correct procedures prior to entering an enclosed space”.
Two weeks ago, a junior officer died after entering a cargo hold to collect a cargo sample. Despite being warned by multiple crew members of the dangers prior to entry, the officer entered the hold and then exited due to “bad air” inside. The officer then re-entered the hold after a mere five minutes of unforced ventilation. Once inside, he was quickly overcome by gases caused by the cargo and fell unconscious, losing his grip on the ladder and falling. The alarm was raised and he was extracted from the hold by ship’s crew using breathing apparatus and taken to hospital where he unfortunately passed away. No senior officers were aware of his entry to the hold, and the proper SMS procedures had not been followed.
MAC is pleased to bring attention to a poster and computer screensaver just released by the Maritime Accident Investigators International Forum, an organisation that has done sterling work on confined or enclosed space entry safety.
The message is that following procedures saves lives, a message that still needs to be hammered home.
Right click below and download the poster and screensaver
The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Board’s latest Safety Digest is, like its predecessors, insightful and informed with a certain British quirkiness that makes it highly readable. Among the accidents and lessons in the first edition of 2012 is an issue lose to MAC’s heart: confined spaces and, in particular, the hazards posed by adjacent spaces.
In this case ‘panting’ during rough weather was involved. It has happened before (See The Case of the Tablets Of Love). In this case, ferrous metal turnings described as ‘steaming’ were loaded into the cargo hold. However, they were presumed to be scrap metal, therefore non-hazardous, as opposed to coming under IMDG Code Class 4.2.