Real Life Incident: Man Overboard Hazard Goes Unnoticed Until Deadly Accident

A small container vessel was underway in a coastal area at about 16 knots. At mid-morning an engine room crew member informed the other duty crew that he was going to open the steam line to the aft fuel oil bunker tank. This was done in a compartment between cargo holds no 2 and 3 on the main deck, which was accessed via a ladder from a coaming catwalk.

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A little while later another engine crew member went out on deck to check on the first man. He found the hatch open and the steam valve manoeuvred, but no trace of the crew member. Once back in the control room he called the bridge and asked for a PA system announcement to call for the crew member. The man’s cabin was also visited but found to be empty.

With the crew member apparently missing a ship search was initiated but he was still not found. The ship was turned around and a search pattern initiated some 90 minutes after the man was last seen. A VHF radio PAN PAN call was made and local SAR authorities contacted. The water was +2˚; at this temperature a person who is not protected by a survival suit will suffer hypothermia and become unconscious within about 20 minutes. Extensive searching by several vessels and helicopters failed to find the missing man, who is presumed dead.

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Lessons learned

  • The ‘falling overboard’ hazard existed for some time without raising any red flags. It took this accident for people to realise the danger.
  • Extra bars were installed in the opening to provide better protection from falling overboard if someone were to lose their grip on the ladder while ascending or descending.
  • Hazards exist on every ship but often are not recognised as such. People tend to accept their environment as it is, without thinking critically about potential hazards.
  • As with the tripping hazard in MARS 201828 above, make a special effort to go over and around your vessel with fresh eyes; try to spot and eliminate ‘falling overboard’ hazards.

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