Maersk officer falls to his death unlashing containers

Maersk Patras. Credit: Marc Piche

A ship’s officer went overboard after lashing at height on board Singaporean-flagged Maersk Patras on the Saint Lawrence River, Canada. A search-and-rescue operation for second officer Ravindu Lakmal Pieris Telge was called off on the evening of 19 May after a day-long air-and-sea rescue.

“It’s with regret we’ve received the news that the search-and-rescue operation was unsuccessful and we must conclude that we have lost our colleague,” Soren Toft, COO of AP Moller, said in a statement.

Telge was reportedly not wearing a lifejacket or harness when he fell from the top of a stack of containers on the 31,333 gt vessel into 6°C waters. The lashing team roster obtained by SAS showed that Sri Lankan officer was working alongside stewards, engineers, electricians, cooks, and cadets as well as ABs at the time of his fall.

Telge was rostered on lashing that morning after working the 12–4 am navigation shift, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Co-ordinator Peter Lahay. The ITF did the initial review of the fatality alongside Transport Canada.

“We spoke to virtually everybody,” Lahey said. “[Telge] was handling a 4-m lashing bar, almost half his weight, when he fell overboard. Our initial investigations [show] there are serious questions about crew fatigue and the safety procedures on board that need to be answered.”

Unions, however, are pointing the finger at the Transport Canada and the port authority, not Maersk, for the fatality. “Maersk was probably the best actor in all of this. It was sailing under the requirements. Montreal is the only major port in Canada where large container vessels are required to unlash before coming into port,” Lahay told SAS.

“Montreal was once a bulk port, now container traffic has increased and container ships are much bigger,” he said. “But in Montreal they won’t let dockers do the lashing. We’ve done a two-year investigation, when this guy went overboard, we lost our cool.”

The union investigation presented to Transport Canada cited the ship’s captains and officers testifying how difficult it was to sometimes unlash in the dark or in subzero temperatures and heavy wind. The port authority and stevedoring companies, however, opposed changing the regulations and Transport Canada let the matter drop.

“The whole thing is a recipe for disaster,” said Lahay. “It’s outrageous. It’s not the 1970s anymore. Containers everywhere are lashed when vessels are alongside.”

A spokesperson from Transport Canada told SAS it was  common practice for crew to unlash containers on-ship while in transit on the St. Lawrence River between Les Escoumins and Montreal.

“Although this practice is unique to the Port of Montreal, it has been deemed acceptable by Transport Canada since the transit is in sheltered waters,” he said.

Transport Canada had held meetings with the unions last year and was consulting with various stakeholders over the operation.

“(We) cannot speculate as to the cause of this accident as the investigation is still underway,” he said.