Real Life Incident: Crewmember’s Fatal Fall Into A Hold

A bulk carrier in ballast was underway. The deck crew were washing the cargo holds, as clean holds were necessary for the planned arrival for loading in two days. Two teams were working at different locations.

The hatch covers of holds 1 and 2 were partially opened in order to remove the remaining corn cargo lying at the cross joint channels of the hatch covers. This resulted in a large gap at the middle cross joint. A crewmember started washing the top of hatch cover panels No.2-1 and 2-2, standing on top of the hatch covers to do so, while another crewmember controlled the length of the hose used by the washing crewmember.

After cleaning the forward panels, the washing crewmember came down onto the hatch coaming to hose down the water to the middle cross joint area of the hatch cover. Then he went up again, this time to the aft panel No.2-3 (indicated by an arrow in the photograph), and started cleaning at the starboard side of panel No.2-3.

open hold
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While moving toward the port side, out of sight of the crewmember tending the hose, he slid down the incline, through the gap in the hatches, and fell at least 17 metres to the hold tank top. A cry was heard and the crewmember tending the hose began searching, only to see his colleague lying on the tank top of the hold in the middle of the hatch area.

The alarm was raised and the victim was quickly attended to, but he had no vital signs. First aid was nonetheless administered including CPR, but without success.

The official investigation found, among other things, that there was no responsible officer supervising or assessing the safety of the work. The Bosun was supposed to supervise both teams of two crew, who were working at different places. Instead, the Bosun went down to hold 1 with one of the teams. The Chief Officer was busy in the deck office preparing the loading plan for the next port, so there was no effective supervision of the team washing the hatch covers.

Additionally, the crew did not use fall arrest equipment while working and climbing on top of the partially opened hatch covers.

Lessons learned

  • In an environment dominated by a weak safety culture, even such a dangerous situation as standing at the top of an open inclined hatch without fall protection does not dissuade people from ‘getting the job done’.


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