While anchored offshore awaiting a berth, the deck crew of a bulk carrier were busy with various maintenance and arrival tasks. The bosun and two ABs donned lifejackets and began preparing the port side accommodation ladder. It was unhoused and swung out from the ship’s side. The crew positioned the handrails and lowered the ladder approximately 2 metres above the water so that the stanchions and side ropes could be correctly set.
While rigging the ladder the bosun noticed large numbers of fish around the bottom of the ladder. Once the work rigging the ladder was completed, the ladder was left in the lowered position and the crew stopped for lunch. After eating but still on his lunch break the bosun returned to the accommodation ladder to do some fishing. One of the ABs arrived soon after and saw the bosun on the lower platform. He was getting some fishing gear ready and had the sleeves of his overalls tied around his waist, was without a lifevest and was wearing slip-on shoes. A little later, the AB who was also now on the accommodation ladder, felt it move. He saw the bosun lose his balance and fall off the platform into the water.
The AB threw a nearby lifebuoy towards the bosun, but it fell about 20m short of the victim, who had been carried aft by the current. Nevertheless, he attempted to swim towards the lifebuoy. The AB raised the alarm and other crew members threw two more lifebuoys towards the bosun, who was now about 50m from the vessel’s stern. There was a strong current and moderate sea and swell conditions.
The rescue boat was in the water and away within 10 minutes of the bosun falling in the water, yet as they approached his apparent position among the drifting lifebuoys he was no longer in sight. Other SAR resources were soon on location, but the bosun was never found.
- Time spent over the side, whether working or for leisure, should always include a lifejacket and fall protection.
- Certain activities undertaken during leisure time present the same or similar risks as when working. The use of the same risk reduction measures such as the use of PPE and supervision should be applied.
- Work over the side, such as rigging of the accommodation ladder, is also work at height. This connection is reinforced in numerous marine publications and guidelines, including codes of safe working practice such as the UK MCA Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen (2015).