Accident details: At a glance

  • Type of accident: Enclosed space fatality
  • Vessel(s) involved: Viking Islay (Emergency Response Rescue Vessel)
  • Date: 23 September 2007
  • Place: off East Yorkshire, UK
  • Fatalities: Three
  • Pollution: No
Read in this series

The incident

On 29 September 2007, the ERRV ‘Viking Islay’ was in the North Sea conducting rig support operations, when two crew onboard went forward to secure a rattling anchor chain within the chain locker.

One of the seamen entered the chain locker and collapsed. It is probable that the other seaman, realising that help was urgently required, raised the alarm with the duty watchkeeping rating on the bridge before he, too, entered the chain locker in an attempt to help his companion. He also collapsed.

During the consequent rescue efforts, the first rescuer found he was unable to enter the chain locker wearing a BA, and he therefore donned an EEBD.

He entered the space, but at some point the hood of the EEBD was removed, or became dislodged and he also collapsed.



All three seamen who entered the confined space were declared dead.




The Master of the vessel was taken to court for failing to discharge his duties properly, but was acquitted of charges. However, the judge fined the firm £160,000 for sailing to provide an oxygen meter and £80,000 for failing to evaluate the efficiency of its SMS and £40,000 for failing to ensure the third engineer had the appropriate certificate of competency.


Probable causes

  • The official investigation report identified as immediate cause of the accident “an oxygen deficient atmosphere within the chain locker”, caused by natural on-going corrosion of the steel structure and anchor chain within the space.
  • The crew of Viking Islay failed to recognise the chain locker was a potentially dangerous enclosed space, or the likelihood that the atmosphere within the space could become oxygen deficient over time.
  • Training and subsequent drills in the use of EEBDs had not been sufficient to ensure the limitations of the equipment were recognised in an emergency.
  • The ship manager’s company policy on entry into enclosed spaces was not clear and did not take into account scenarios that could require crews to enter confined spaces while at sea.
  • The audit regime employed by the ship’s managers to ensure compliance with its SMS failed to detect deficiencies in training, equipment and safety culture onboard Viking Islay.


ISM breaches

  • Crew failure to recognize the chain locker was a potentially dangerous enclosed/confined space
  • Well established permit to work measures as per SMS not considered before the space was entered.
  • Unclear manager’s company policy on entry into enclosed spaces (as per SMS)
  • Failure of the audit regime to detect deficiencies in training, equipment and safety culture onboard.

Lessons learned 

The incident highlighted issues related to breaches of the merchant shipping safety regulations: Poor safety system with too much paperwork that “was a victim of its own complexity”, the court heard, as well as lack of crew training, and inefficient audits.

However, the most serious breach was the firm’s failure to provide an oxygen meter despite a request from the Captain 6 months before the incident, the report read.

On the aftermath, the owner provided portable atmosphere testing equipment onboard its ships and trained key personnel in its use. They also published the lessons learned of this deadly incident and reinforced enclosed space entry requirements.

Did you know?

  • Only in three months last year, from September to November 2018, at least 8 enclosed space fatalities onboard four different ships were reported.
  • A recent survey by Intermanager showed that this type of incidents continues shipping lacks a thorough understanding of the risks faced by today’s seafarers, while dangerous timeframes are imposed for hazardous tasks and investigations encourage a ‘blame culture’.
  • According to ITF, since January 2018, a total of 145 seafarers and dockers died in last 20 years from asphyxiation or explosions in confined spaces, and alarmingly 28 in the past 16 months.
  • Over 50% of the workers in enclosed / confined spaces die while attempting to rescue their coworkers, according to USCG.


Explore more in the official investigation report:


SQE Marine has prepared a detailed checklist aiming to inform about the necessary actions to be followed, in case of rescue from enclosed space, as well as a toolbox meeting guide for enclosed spaces.