A ship crewman who died of asphyxiation after entering a ballast tank on a passenger vessel did not have a permit to work in the area, investigators have discovered.
But the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s (MAIB) report on the incident — the sixth fatality in an enclosed space that it has investigated since September 2007 — proposes no new recommendations, prompting maritime workers’ union, Nautilus UK, to suggest it had drawn an unsatisfactory line under the wider issue.
The incident occurred on 11 June last year, on board the Saga Rose cruise ship. A 43-year-old Filipino, an experienced petty officer, was found lying at the bottom of the tank by a motorman. After raising the alarm, the motorman entered the tank to help his colleague, but also collapsed owing to the lack of oxygen inside the tank.
On arrival, the on-board emergency response team, with help from the local emergency services, successfully revived the motorman, but the petty officer died before he could be recovered.
The petty officer — the ship’s second bosun — had been instructed to test the water in the tank by tasting it to establish whether it was fresh or salt water. The ship captain issued the order on the assumption that it was full, and the water was within easy reach from outside the tank. As a result, a permit to work was not deemed necessary.
However, on inspecting the tank, the petty officer found it to be virtually empty, and decided to climb down into it to complete his task. Owing to the lack of oxygen inside the tank, the petty officer collapsed and lost consciousness. The MAIB was unable to establish why he entered the tank but believes that complacency and a perception that he would only need to enter the tank for a few seconds could have influenced his decision.
In view of recent incidents on UK ships, and other similar incidents worldwide, the Branch issued a safety alert in July last year. The bulletin urged ship owners, managers and relevant organisations to identify and implement measures aimed at improving the identification of all dangerous and potentially dangerous spaces, and increasing compliance with the safe working practices required when working in such areas.
A spokesperson for Nautilus UK told SHP: “We welcome the work the MAIB has done but clearly there is a need for more radical and more fundamental work. It may feel that the safety alert and the work that has already gone on is sufficient but, in our view, it is clearly not sufficient.”
The union wants to see specific requirements regarding regular drills for entry into enclosed spaces, and not simply during emergencies. The spokesperson explained: “People aren’t rehearsed in the procedures for entry. This is a problem of safety culture. By doing regular drills, it would change the culture and make people much more aware of procedures.”
Since the incident, the vessel’s owner, Saga Shipping, has reviewed and re-written its permit-to-work system. It has also employed a competent person to undertake risk-assessment training on board its vessels, and developed training modules, which focus on the risks of tank entry, enclosed spaces, and other high-risk areas.
The MAIB report is available at the link below.
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