A laden container ship was heading into an increasingly heavy sea when an alarm sounded on the bridge indicating a fire in the forecastle store. As the chief officer was the OOW on the bridge, the master and the bosun went forward to investigate; they were dressed in foul weather clothing, boots and were wearing lifejackets.
Once forward, they discovered that the alarm was false, there was no fire; however, they did find some minor flooding of the forecastle store and an electrical fault as lighting was not working. They also spotted that the sea lashings on the port anchor cable had worked loose in the rough conditions. The master and bosun then decided to go back inside the ship and prepare for the separate task of tightening the loose lashings.
The master, chief officer and the bosun discussed the plan to return to the fore deck; they assessed the risks and held a ‘toolbox talk’.
The plan was for the master, the bosun and an AB (for dedicated communications to the bridge) to go forward and tighten the loose lashings.
As the master and bosun started working next to the port anchor cable (see figure), the vessel pitched into a very large wave, which resulted in a full bore of water rushing violently up the port hawse pipe. The master was thrown back by the force of the water and struck in the face by the loose hawse pipe cover. The master sustained a broken leg and facial injuries. The bosun was also knocked over by the force of the water and suffered a back injury.
The AB, who was standing clear and was uninjured, immediately raised the alarm by calling the bridge on the radio. A first-aid party was rapidly on the scene and aided the injured crewmen back to the accommodation area for treatment; both were later evacuated to hospital by a rescue helicopter from the nearby coastal state. The ship continued its passage with the chief officer in command.
1. Working on deck in heavy weather is always going to be a hazardous activity. The MCA’s Code of Safe Working Practice (CoSWP) states that ‘no seafarers should be on deck during heavy weather unless it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for the safety of the ship or crew’. Should work on deck be absolutely necessary in heavy weather, CoSWP recommends that the risk assessment should give consideration to factors including: availability of rescue services, adjusting the vessel’s course and speed, rigging lifelines, working in 3. pairs and good communications with the bridge.
2. There was undoubtedly an urgent requirement to investigate the fire alarm. However, once it had been established that there was no emergency situation, the crew considered their priorities for dealing with the situation that had been found. Their risk assessment considered options for ensuring the safety of the crew on deck in heavy weather, including avoiding lone working and maintaining good communications. However, altering course or speed to reduce the risk of ploughing into a large wave was not considered and could potentially have reduced the risks further. Always be ready to deal with an emergency situation. When the crewmen were injured, the alarm was raised quickly, and a rescue team was on the scene, rapidly ensuring the master and bosun were back inside the ship as fast as safely possible and without further injury.
Source: MAIB Safety Digest 2/2018