‘Crew needs to realise gantry crane operators are mostly driving blind’

The Nautical Institute describes an accident in which a crew member was crushed by a moving gantry crane in its latest Mars Report. The organisation warns crew should realise gantry crane operators often cannot see if the track is clear of personnel and that an audible alarm is not enough to prevent accidents.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

The vessel had discharged a cargo of china clay (kaolinite) in bulk, which is a white, greasy substance which is liable to stick everywhere, making conditions slippery. The next cargo was to be paper but before it could be loaded, the hold and the hatches needed to be completely clean. A short safety briefing was held before the cleaning began in which the risks associated with working with the mobile gantry crane were discussed. Crew then began cleaning the coamings, the deck, and the structure.

The coaming was cleaned with the help of the ship’s main gantry crane which had a safety acoustic signal when it was moving. By slowly moving the crane over the coaming, it was possible for a person on the crane structure to clean the coaming with a hose. Several members of the crew were involved in the cleaning work; a crane operator, the hoseman secured to the crane, a cable duty person on the port side and a hose guide who was receiving instructions via his VHF radio.

The port side was cleaned without incident and work started on the starboard side, proceeding from aft to forward. The crane operator was looking astern and the hose-man on the crane was spraying the coaming on the starboard side.

The hose guide had last been seen extending the hose on the starboard side. He was contacted via his VHF, but he did not respond. Shortly afterwards, the hose guide was found lying on the deck on the port side, having been struck by the crane. Assistance was given but the victim succumbed to his injuries.

Investigation findings

The official investigation found that it was probable that the victim had been seeking to close the cap on the hatch coaming drainage pipe, and had been struck by the moving crane in the process. The investigation was unable to establish why the victim had climbed up at exactly the moment the crane passed by.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • An audible gantry crane alarm, such as the one in this accident, is not a guarantee that all will go according to plan.
  • Gantry crane operators are essentially driving blind as they often cannot see if the track is clear of personnel.
  • This is not the first gantry crane accident and unfortunately probably not the last. Some additional safeguards appear necessary during gantry crane operations for the situation to become safer.

Also read: Moving gantry causes serious injury

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202068, that are part of Report Number 338. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s January 2021 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

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.