The small general cargo/container vessel arrived in the port of Townsville after a voyage from Papua New Guinea. The voyage had been at reduced speed due to machinery problems. It had no cargo to discharge and remained in Townsville to complete repairs.
For the next few days the ship was still lying at no. 6 wharf in Townsville, awaiting spares for the main gearbox. The 53-year-old Master was due to pay off from the ship in couple of days to return to his home in Denmark for leave.
On one evening, he and his friend of long standing, the Chief Engineer, went ashore for a farewell dinner. They started the evening with drinks at an hotel near the docks, then went into town for dinner and finally to another hotel before returning on board Arktis Grace at about 21:45 that evening. The Chief Engineer boarded the ship first, while the Master paid the taxi driver. Shortly afterwards, the crew heard a loud crash and felt the ship shudder. The gangway was found tipped on its side and the Master was seen floating face down in the water between the ship’s side and the wharf. The Chief Engineer and a crew member jumped into the water in an attempt to save him. The Master was a big man weighing about 140 kg and, despite their efforts, he was later found to have drowned.
These conclusions identify the different factors which contributed to the circumstances and causes of the incident and should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular organisation or individual. It is concluded that:
1. The Master of ship died by drowning, after falling from the vessel’s gangway into the gap between the ship’s side and the wharf.
2. The hand-ropes of the gangway were sufficiently slack to allow the Master’s centre of gravity to move outside the edge of the narrow gangway and for his weight to tip it over.
3. The hand-ropes had not been tended and tensioned regularly by the deck watch as the vessel rose and fell with the tides.
4. The Chief Engineer and the ordinary seaman in the water did all they could to try to save the Master.
5. There was an excessive delay before an ambulance was called, explained in part by the fact that none of those on board knew the emergency number to call, and the number was not displayed in a prominent position adjacent to the telephone.
6. The Inspector considers that the consumption of alcohol in the hours preceding his death, which led to an apparent blood alcohol level of .291%, was a significant factor in the impairment of the Master’s sense of balance on the gangway.
7. Had a safety net been rigged underneath the gangway, as required by the Port of Townsville By-laws during the weeks immediately preceding the incident, it may have prevented the Master from falling into the water.