USCG issues alert after “unusual” incident on very large container ship

A 200m (600') long container ship navigates the North Atlantic under dramatic skies. Credit: Getty Images

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has issued a safety alert aimed at operators of deep draught vessels following an “unusual” fatality late 2018.

The very large 1,100 ft container ship in question had almost reached the Port of New York/New Jersey in heavy weather conditions with 40 knot winds and 4 m swells. As the vessel manoeuvred at about 10 knots to make a lee in preparation to embark a ship’s pilot via a side shell access port, it was hit by heavy seas that forced the side shell hatch door open.

This resulted in flooding of the embarkation space, sweeping one crew member out to sea and injuring another. At the time of the casualty, the vessel was on a west-north westerly course with seas on its starboard quarter.

The ship’s boatswain and ordinary seaman (OS) were manning the port side shell access port and pilot embarkation space behind a hydraulically operated bi-fold hatch door in preparation for the pilot’s arrival. The port was located forward of the house and approximately 4 m above the waterline.

The boatswain and OS were unable to monitor the seas from their position behind the hatch door. As the two crew members were in the process of opening the door, seas unexpectedly struck and violently forced it open, flooding the space.

The OS was not wearing a harness or safety line nor a personal flotation device. He was subsequently swept out to sea and presumed dead following a 28-hour search. The boatswain suffered a fractured leg in the incident.

According to the USCG safety alert, the incident reiterates the dangers of personnel exchanges at sea, especially in heavy weather conditions.

“Even though the side shell hatch door was located on the port side and was being brought onto the vessel’s lee, the crew’s inability to observe and assess the sea conditions combined with the ship’s roll and sea state presented significant risks,” the alert reads.

In light of the casualty, the USCG has recommended that owners and operators of deep draught vessels:

● Review vessel Safety Management Systems, procedural manuals, and guidance that relate to pilot transfers and update as appropriate considering risks revealed by this casualty;

● Reinforce the importance for crew members to wear personal protection devices and safety lines when working over the side of a vessel, when exposed to the elements, or when there is an absence of barrier that could prevent an accidental water entry;

● Ensure officers and crew identify potential hazards and conduct a risk assessment, to include a consideration of weather conditions, prior to opening the side shell port hatches;

● Ensure crew communications between navigation watch officers and crew, in situations such as this, are clear and provide suitable supervision of activities, considering sea state and other changing conditions.