The Fatal Fall Incident


The oil tanker was berthed alongside and discharging cargo. The chief officer was signing off the same day. His replacement had been sailing on the vessel for many years so they did a quick handover. The following morning the cargo operation was completed around noon and the crew started to clean the cargo tanks. The chief officer was in charge of the tank cleaning operation and was giving orders to the 2nd officer in the control room and two ABs who were cleaning the tank on deck. One AB worked in the deck trunk and the other was handling and monitoring the tank cleaning machinery on the tank deck. The chief officer’s responsibility was to ensure that the tank cleaning was carried out safely and that the tanks were cleaned properly. The chief officer visually checked that the tanks were clean. He checked each of the tanks by taking a couple of steps down the tank access ladder and looking down the tank while lighting it up with a flashlight. While doing so, the chief officer did not wear a fall arrest harness. While the ABs and the 2nd officer were busy carrying out their own tasks, none of them noticed whether or not the chief officer measured the levels of oxygen and toxic gases in the tank atmosphere before he started visually checking them.

Prevention of fall incidents

After a while the OOW in the cargo control room wondered where the chief officer was, as he didn’t answer on the radio; so he told one of the ABs to search for him. When he looked down into one of the tanks from the hatch opening he spotted the reflective striping on the chief officer’s boiler suit at the bottom of the tank near the end of the ladder. The master was informed and hurried to the tank and ordered the crew at the scene to fetch a stretcher, oxygen kit, and breathing apparatus. The master put on the breathing apparatus and entered the tank. He found the chief officer severely injured and unconscious. The master fastened a harness onto the chief officer, and the crew on deck hoisted him up. First aid was immediately given, and the 2nd officer contacted the terminal asking them to call the emergency coordination center. One hour after the chief officer had been evacuated, the master monitored the atmosphere in the tank. The gas monitor went up to its maximum 100pp of hydrogen sulphide content. It is unknown if this made the chief officer unconscious. The ambulance arrived and its crew tried to resuscitate the chief officer. Ten minutes later he was pronounced dead. The chief officer fell from a height of 10 meters and wasn’t wearing a fall arrestor while climbing down the ladder. It might seem unnecessary to connect a fall arrestor every time one steps on a ladder. However, the officer fell from the top of the ladder and died. It is important to know that the following IMO requirements come into force from 1 July 2016 Amendments to SOLAS and the relevant codes concerning mandatory carriage of appropriate atmosphere testing instruments on board ships. Applicable on all new and existing ships.

Preventive measures

Have procedures for when and how to check tanks and when opening the hatches is allowed.
Have procedures for what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is to be used and ensure gas concentration is measured.
Ensure all the crew understand the importance of using the correct PPE, and especially the harness and fall absorber, when entering a tank or cargo hold.
It is good idea if all the crew working with the cargo operation have a personal gas detector
Source: The Swedish P&I Club

The Swedish P&I Club issues Monthly Safety Scenario for January 2016 regarding a fatal fall accident. The Swedish Club publishes on a monthly basis a new “Monthly Safety Scenario” (MSS) to assist owners in their efforts of complying with the maritime regulations.

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