Working Without Fall Protection of Lifejacket Results in Fatality

An incident covered in a recent Mars Report describes once again the importance of wearing fall protection and a lifejacket. A deckhand fell overboard while a container vessel was unloading and subsequently drowned due to this very reason.

This victim is not the first fatality from falling overboard and he will not be the last. In the lessons learned, the Mars Report (number 201957), it is advised to ask yourself before starting a task: ‘Could I fall overboard?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, consider fall protection and lifejackets, among other things. Mundane tasks that have always been done a certain way can nonetheless present serious risks that are invisible to the crew. Go about your tasks with new eyes and try and see the hazards before the consequences turn negative.

The Mars Report describes an incident that occurred on 30 December 2016 and was investigated by the Dutch Safety Board (Report published in January 2019). A transcript of what happened:

A container vessel, the A2B Future managed by Holwerda Shipmanagement, arrived at berth in the port of Moerdijk, the Netherlands, on a regular short sea run on 30 December 2016. When unloading, after the container was lifted from the vessel by the dock crane, the twistlocks remained behind in the corner castings, and had to be removed by hand. A deckhand was on the dock to help the shore gangs by releasing and removing the semi-automatic twistlocks from the suspended containers.

During the unloading process, one container could not be lifted from its position on the ship because it was still attached to the container below it. The deckhand on the dock and later victim boarded the vessel and climbed up the deck hatch and between two rows of containers via a permanent ladder in order to release the twistlock.

Another deckhand on the dockside saw him use a hand signal to indicate to the crane operator that the container could be lifted. The crane operator again attempted to lift the container in question.

Soon after, a ship’s officer on the bridge saw a person struggling to remain afloat in the water near the ship; the water temperature was near freezing. The officer immediately raised the alarm and then went to the location where the victim was lying in the water to offer assistance. The Master remained on the bridge and notified the local authorities.

The crew began a rescue operation but by that time the victim had already disappeared below the water. The shore emergency services arrived and a dive team initiated a search alongside and below the ship.

Fifty minutes later, one of the divers located the victim underwater, not far from where he was last seen. Once he had been brought to the surface the emergency services started resuscitation efforts. The victim was quickly transported to hospital by ambulance but, due to a combination of hypothermia and injuries possibly caused by the fall he was pronounced deceased a short time later.

Official Report Findings

The official report found among other things that;

  • Due to the absence of any type of fall protection, the victim fell from the hatch into the water.
  • The victim was not wearing a lifejacket and shortly after entering the water he was unable to independently remain afloat.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 201957, that are part of Report Number 323. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s October issue. The Mars Reports are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website to help prevent maritime accidents.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.