Seafarers must not get distracted by their mobile devices during duties to prevent maritime accidents and fatalities
This can happen on the bridge of a ship, on deck and during ship loading and unloading operations.
In the latest safety notice from the UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) of the Maritime Coastguard Agency, this warning was to seafarers working on loading ramps.
MAIB warned against seafarers becoming ’smartphone zombies’ while working. They should remain alert and not get distracted by their mobile devices. Smartphone zombie is described in popular culture as pedestrians who walk slowly without attention to their surroundings because they are focused on their mobile devices.
MAIB said, “Seafarers are not immune from such effects and, although mobile telephones provide a ready means of contact with friends and family, their use on working decks and other workspaces on board ships is a distraction and is potentially hazardous.”
This safety message came after a seafarer died on Isle of Man-registered, roro freight ferry Seatruck Progress while using his mobile phone on deck.
The agency highlighted the risk to seafarers from being distracted by communications equipment in hazardous workspaces and called for industry guidance on the issue.
“The use of mobile telephones and other communications media is an increasing source of distraction on working decks and in other hazardous workspaces on board ships, for which formal guidance is currently lacking,” MAIB said in an accident report.
MAIB chief investigator of maritime accidents highlighted the hazards of using mobile phones when on duty or in a working environment. “Users can too easily become distracted from the tasks they are doing and lose awareness of what is happening around them,” he said.
“This accident occurred on the loading ramp of a roro ferry, however, the use of mobile phones in other hazardous workspaces and on the bridge of ships is becoming a serious concern.”
During MAIB’s investigation into the fatal accident on 15 May 2019, it discovered the third officer was distracted while the ferry was discharging in Brocklebank Dock, Liverpool, UK.
The vessel’s third officer was overseeing the cargo operations on the vessel’s stern ramp to the quayside. This was the ferry’s only means of access for vehicles and pedestrians. The officer was struck and fatally injured by a semi-trailer that was being pushed down the ramp.
The driver of the tractor unit pushing the semi-trailer stopped immediately but the third officer was trapped between the trailer’s rear wheels and was pronounced life extinct by attending paramedics.
In its accident report, the MAIB said, “The third officer was talking on his mobile telephone and was facing down the ramp, away from the direction of the semi-trailer’s approach, when he was struck.”
The MAIB continued, “He probably did not hear the trailer approaching among the noise from cargo operations on other decks.”
Other safety lessons
Another factor in the accident was the location of the third officer, as he was standing away from a pedestrian walkway that was painted along the starboard edge of the ramp. The driver was unable to see the third officer due to the semi-trailer blocking his view ahead and he was not expecting any pedestrians to be on the stern ramp, said the MAIB.
Other safety lessons from the accident include having clear codes of practice to protect walkways on stern ramps to ensure segregation of pedestrians and vehicles. Ship operators are advised to apply protected walkways or provide other means of segregating vehicles and pedestrians.
“Procedures based on a policy of ‘see and be seen’ are fraught with danger,” said the MAIB. “Painted walkways on vehicle ramps and decks that are not protected are liable to be encroached upon by vehicles and they are not safe unless other measures to control pedestrian access and vehicular traffic are also implemented. They are even less safe if they are not used.”
During its investigation, the MAIB discovered the tractor driver was a cannabis user, but this was not considered to be a contributory factor in this accident.
However, the MAIB also highlighted how recreational cannabis use can impair judgement and performance. “Random testing had not been carried out by the port operator,” MAIB said.
It also highlighted that this was the second work-related death in 15 months to have occurred on board ferries operated by Seatruck Ferries Ltd berthed in Liverpool.
In conclusion from the accident investigation, the MAIB recommended Seatruck Ferries should improve its procedures and the safety culture of its crews.
It also made a recommendation to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and the Isle of Man Ship Registry to raise awareness of the potential hazards of mobile telephone use.
The MAIB said the UK Chamber of Shipping should promulgate the lessons of this accident to the wider ferry industry.
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