A container vessel was inbound to port and approaching the pilot boarding area. In preparation for the pilot some deck crew were preparing the accommodation ladder. Winds were relatively light at near 10 knots with a swell of about one metre. The bosun asked the deck trainee to fetch some buoyancy vests. When the trainee returned he saw the bosun had already removed the lashings and lowered the accommodation ladder to below the main deck level. The bosun had walked more than halfway down the ladder and was crouched down trying to lift the outboard handrail from its stowage position.
The deck trainee then saw the bosun lose his balance and fall into the sea. The bosun was wearing a safety harness and fall arrestor, but as his body weight came on the safety harness fall arrestor line, the wire to which the fall arrestor was attached parted. The deck trainee immediately called the bridge on his VHF to report the incident. Another crew member threw a lifebuoy overboard; the bosun was seen trying to swim an estimated 10-15 metres to the lifebuoy.
The Master stopped the engine and asked the pilot boat whether he should turn around or wait for the pilot. He was told to wait for the pilot, but instead of depositing the pilot on the vessel, the pilot boat continued to try to locate the victim. Fully 20 minutes later – 25 minutes after the man overboard (MOB) had occurred – the Master was told to turn and return to the MOB position.
The official investigation found among others that:
- The 8mm wire rope to which the fall arrestor had been attached was sheathed with a plastic coating, which had been painted. The original minimum breaking strength of the wire rope is estimated to have been 3,500kg, but at the point of failure its strength was much reduced due to corrosion, which had set in because the plastic sheathing had been compromised.
- The wire rope was not entered into the planned maintenance system or wire rope register. Therefore there was no record of it ever having been examined, maintained or tested.
- The design of the wire rope and its method of attachment to the ship were not fit for the purpose of attaching a safety harness.
- The shipboard emergency response to the bosun falling overboard did not follow best industry practice, which would have been for the vessel to return to the MOB position as quickly as possible.
- When working overboard, always wear a lifejacket.
- Wire ropes coated in plastic, although they may appear a good idea, cannot be properly inspected for corrosion. Even a small failure of the plastic will allow salt water to enter the rope and corrosion to occur unseen.
- When a man overboard occurrence happens on your vessel all other considerations are secondary. You should execute your MOB procedure in the most timely manner possible.