Crew member dies after falling into unprotected hold

A combination of wet and cluttered surfaces and a lack of fall barriers resulted in a fatality on board a container vessel. The Nautical Institute discusses the incident in its latest Mars Report and warns to stick to ‘strong procedural integrity’ and to always apply fall barriers and fall-arrest equipment.

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:

A container vessel was in the process of loading. At one point, a crew member was seen walking on the raised catwalk adjacent to number 4 cargo hold, which was open and empty. It was early morning and a fine dew had wetted most of the steel surfaces of the vessel. Suddenly, the crew member was seen to trip backward and fall into the empty hold number 4, a distance of about 14 metres.

He remained motionless at the bottom of the hold and an evacuation procedure was initiated. Later that day, he was pronounced dead at the shore hospital.

Investigation findings

The ensuing investigation was unable to establish why the crew member was walking on the raised catwalk near the open hold. However, it was found that there were no barriers to prevent falling and that the narrow (70 cm) catwalk was littered with loose securing gear that made walking on that surface hazardous.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • A combination of wet and cluttered surfaces and a lack of fall barriers resulted in a very hazardous work area. Then, the crew member made his fatal decision to enter that area without fall-arrest equipment.
  • We do not always make the best and safest ‘on-the-spot’ decisions. This is why strong procedural integrity and a robust safety culture are important safeguards against negative outcomes.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202106, that are part of Report Number 339. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s February 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.