A vessel that had been assisted by a tug was preparing to let go the tow. In preparation for letting go, seaman 1 ran the messenger line over the drum end of the mooring winch, while seaman 2 operated the winch to pull about two metres of tow line inboard. The second mate wrapped the rope stopper around the main tow line while the messenger line was taken off the drum end and the eye of the tow line taken off the mooring bitts. The messenger line was then put around the forward post of the mooring bits to assist with the controlled lowering of the tow line.
On board the tug, a crewmember was standing on deck near the winch ready to guide the tow line onto the winch drum. Another crewmember was at the remote winch controls inside at the port bridge console. The crewmember controlling the winch waited until he saw the tow line being lowered before he started heaving in. As the tow line was retrieved, seaman 2’s right leg somehow became entangled in the messenger line. He was then dragged about four metres across the deck and into the rollers of the fairlead. When his legs entered the fairlead the messenger line came under tension and it severed the seaman’s right foot.
Both crew on the tug had seen the messenger line go tight and the crewmember at the winch control stopped heaving. The assisted vessel’s second mate ran to the ship’s rail and signalled to slacken the line. Medical assistance from ashore was quickly requested and the victim was transported to hospital for treatment.
Findings from the official report
- From his position at the port bridge console, the crewmember controlling the winch could see the tow line, the winch and the signalling crewmember on the tug’s deck. However, due to the freeboard of the assisted ship, no one on board the tug could see past the ship’s main deck hand rails. As is usual, the tug’s crew had no direct radio communications with the ship’s aft mooring team, and were therefore reliant on visual contact with the mooring team for all communications.
By assisting the two seamen with releasing the tug’s line from the bitts, the officer was not at the ship’s side where he would have had a clear line of sight of the tug; he had thus relinquished his supervisory role. When the seaman became entangled in the messenger line, there was no one on the assisted vessel in a position to quickly signal the tug’s crew to stop heaving or slacken the line.
Mooring operations are often seen as a routine task but contain dangers that are often not realised until it is too late. As the forces that can be exerted on mooring and towing line cannot be directly observed, they are often underestimated by those working around them.
Serious injury is likely when there is an incident during tug and mooring operations, but the likelihood of such an occurrence can be managed through effective risk assessment, training, supervision, communications and good housekeeping – both prior to and during berthing operations.