Tug and port operators have again been warned to improve access between quaysides and vessels after two accidents in the UK were investigated in the past year
The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said vessels should be easily accessible from docksides to prevent seafarers from injury or death after falling into the sea.
MAIB investigators also recommended tug operators conduct regular man-overboard drills to ensure crew work effectively to recover seafarers that have fallen. These warnings and recommendations come from the MAIB’s accident investigations involving tugs in the last three years which includes the death of a tug chief engineer who fell from a fender while attempting to return to a vessel following unmooring operations. In another accident, a seafarer fell between an aggregate barge and a quayside, but was recovered from the sea without major injury.
“In many similar incidents, including a number investigated by the MAIB, people have been killed or seriously injured,” said the MAIB. “When berthing or unberthing, shore-based linesmen should be employed,” it recommended. “Access to and from an unmoored vessel is a very dangerous activity, and should be avoided.”
However, if shore-based linesmen are not available and crew need to conduct line operations, there are procedures to follow – which do not include jumping over distances and taking unsafe risks.
“Jumping any distance to get ashore or onto another vessel is extremely dangerous, even more so when the landing surface is slippery,” said the MAIB. “Stepping across a small gap may be acceptable provided the vessel is stopped and held alongside securely, but the crossing should be level.”
In his safety digest introduction, MAIB chief inspector of marine accidents Andrew Moll said these are common accidents that can be avoided. “We have seen accidents many times before involving unsafe access,” he said. “As mariners we take pride in our ability to get the job done, but many of the accidents reported here could have been avoided had those involved taken a little more time to assess the risks before getting on with the job. Doing your job should not involve putting yourself in danger.”
Quayside infrastructure, such as ladders and gangways would make access to workboats, barges and tugs easier and safer to access.
Guidance on safe access ashore is given in MGN 591 (M+F) and the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers (COSWP).
In addition, “all methods of access to vessels must be robustly risk assessed,” said the MAIB, “and it is the owners’ and masters’ responsibility to ensure that safe access is provided, and used correctly, every time.”
Accident investigators warned vessel operators not to allow unsafe access methods to become normal practice. “Just because something has become normal practice does not make it safe. If you think something is unsafe, speak up,” the MAIB said.
But if an accident does happen, having a well-drilled crew can be the difference between life and death.
In one of the accidents the MAIB investigated, the tug chief engineer died in almost freezing water because crew were not familiar with the man-overboard lifesaving equipment. In that case, the crew attempted to throw him a lifebuoy with a lanyard and were able to haul the injured chief engineer towards the mid-ships access door.
However, having been immersed in the very cold water for some minutes, the chief engineer was too weak to climb back on board using the recessed ladder in the hull.
The crew then attempted to use the vessel’s man-overboard recovery device. However, they were not familiar with its operation and having successfully looped it around the chief engineer, did not tighten the strop around him.
Shortly afterwards, the chief engineer lost consciousness and slipped out of the recovery device. A rescue boat arrived within 22 minutes of the accident, and one of the rescue crew made a tethered entry into the water to recover the chief engineer.
Unfortunately, the chief engineer did not survive the ordeal. The post-mortem examination revealed that he had suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after falling into the water.
It was subsequently found that it had become a standard practice to use the quay’s fenders to step on and off tugs, and that the oil terminal had facilitated this by painting them with non-slip paint.
In its summary, the MAIB said “recovering an unconscious casualty back on board a vessel is an extremely difficult task without someone entering the water to assist.
“All crew members should be familiar with the use of man-overboard recovery equipment to recover an unresponsive casualty,” the MAIB continued.
“This equipment could save a life; make sure the crew know how to use it. There is no substitute for regular and realistic drills using a man-overboard mannequin.”
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