Man overboard while rigging ladder
Lookout! Issue 37, August 2017
The ship was approaching a South Island port two years ago, and the bosun and a deck trainee were preparing the accommodation ladder ready for when the ship berthed. Th ebosun, in his 50s, was wearing a full-body safety harness tethered to a safety wire, but had failed to don a lifejacket before going over the ship’s side to free the ladder.
He had asked the deck trainee to go and get lifejackets from the crew changing room, but did not wait for the trainee to return before climbing over to try and erect the ladder’s handrail. The trainee was holding out the lifejacket to the bosun, who was standing on the lower section of the ladder, when he saw his colleague having difficulty pulling up the seaward side handrail and trying to apply force. The bosun then lost his balance and fell off the ladder.
The 1.5 metre tether on his safety harness should have halted his fall. The wire that it was attached to was sheathed in plastic. It extended the length of the accommodation ladder and was secured to the ship. But once the wire was bearing the full weight of the man it suddenly parted.
The bosun fell about 10 metres into the ocean where he was seen waving for help. The deck hand used his radio to raise the alarm and a mechanic working at the stern threw a lifebuoy into the water. The man was last seen trying to swim toward the lifebuoy.
When the ship’s Master relayed an alert on the VHF radio, the skipper of the pilot vessel behind volunteered to pick up the stranded man. Once at the scene, though, there was no sign of the bosun except for a pair of gloves and a hard hat.
A helicopter, two tugs, rescue craft, fishing vessels and the cargo ship joined in the search – but they were unable to locate the man, despite it being a sunny day, with only light winds and mild sea conditions.
- This fatality shows how essential it is for the owners and masters of vessels to ensure comprehensive maintenance checks on wires are regularly carried out.
- The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) found that the point at which the wire failed was severely corroded.
- A safety lifeline, which is critical equipment, should be constructed to industry best practice and regularly maintained.
- The wire was not entered into the ship’s planned maintenance system or wire rope register. Therefore there was no record of it ever having been examined, maintained or tested.
- It is likely water seeped through cracks in the plastic sheathing and gradually corroded the steel wire.
- TAIC found that it is unsafe to use plastic-coated wire for any rigging that is required to be inspected regularly.
- Over time the plastic had cracked and became discolored; and it had been over-painted. This meant any visual inspection of the wire would have been obscured by the discoloration and paint.
- Although the accommodation ladder had recently been inspected and tested, the condition of the safety wire indicated it was unlikely to have formed part of the inspection.
- This incident also shows a lifejacket is essential for personnel working over the side of large ships, as well as a safety harness.
- The bosun chose not to observe normal operating procedures – and contravened Maritime NZ’s Code of Safe Working Practice for merchant seafarers – by not wearing a lifejacket.
- The weight of his clothing and harness would have made it more difficult for him to remain afloat without a buoyancy aid, or to swim to the lifebuoy.
- TAIC also found that the actions of the bridge team were not intuitive during the attempted rescue. They should have noted the ship’s position, and thrown a lifebuoy over the side which had a light and smoke signal to better mark the position. If the bridge team had sounded the general alarm all crew would have been immediately available to help with the recovery.
- As the position where the bosun went overboard was not well marked or recorded, search and rescue vessels had difficulty locating the correct search area – wasting valuable time.
- The Master broadcast ‘person overboard’ on the VHF radio, and the pilot boat skipper volunteered to pick him up. But it would still have been prudent for the ship to have returned to the scene – or at least ensure the vessel’s forward momentum slowed by operating the main engine astern, and trying to remain within sight of the man.
- Three long blasts of the ship’s whistle – indicating person overboard – would also have helped reassure the man in the water that a rescue was underway.
- In the circumstances, an immediate Mayday call may also have assisted.