Fatal accident during hot works by an external contractor in port.
The crew of a 130 m general cargo ship was busy loading construction material, partly stowed on deck on pontoon type hatch covers and partly in the tween deck. The cargo was secured by steel stoppers and lashing rings to avoid shifting.
The charterer engaged a company from shore to cut off stoppers and d-rings, from previous cargo securing. After boarding, the shore contractors discussed the job to be done with the chief mate, who showed the team of three where the cutting was to be conducted. The shore contractors started to remove brackets and stoppers with oxy-acetylene cutting equipment. The 2nd mate sporadically supervised these works until he was relieved by the chief mate. No one on board made any efforts to establish a required fire watch, especially the areas behind or below the steel bulk wards or tween deck hatch covers were not monitored, letting hot residue fall into the lower cargo hold, where stowed cargo caught fire. When the cargo discharge operation started, the cutting on the hatch covers had already been finished. The cargo discharge continued at the forepart of the tween deck and an AB was instructed to open further hatch pontoons by using the ship’s crane. At that time, he noticed smoke coming from the hold’s aft which he immediately reported to the 2nd mate, who was on duty, consequently also informing the master. The master then raised the general alarm without delay.
After crew mustering, the fire fighting commenced. The port fire brigade arrived on scene in ample time and took over the fire fighting. No immediate use of CO2 was possible as one person of the shore contractors was still missing. The fire brigade proceeded to cool the cargo hold, but finally it was agreed to flood the cargo hold with CO2 which because of partly left open vents had only a marginal effect. For stability reason the captain discharged fire fighting water overboard and the fire fighters continued until the fire was completely extinguished.
The dead worker from shore was found some hours later in the lower cargo hold of the vessel where he was alone and had no chance to escape. Another three workers were injured.
The safety investigation revealed a deficit of fundamental safety awareness of the crew and shore contractors. Both saw their responsibilities with the other (work place set up, fire watch, constant monitoring of temperatures behind the hot work area, etc.).
Lesson to Learn
Prior to hot works on board a vessel, a risk assessment must be carried out in order to identify dangers in the work process to effectively define necessary control measures.
The vessel’s crew is responsible on board the vessel, also if activities are executed by external parties.
An effective access control with all applicable measures does not only keep unwanted persons off the vessel, but also ensures boarding persons are brought were they are supposed to be.