The incident

Logs inside cargo holds of a Hong Kong registered bulker carrier were fumigated during the passage and discharged at port of Humen, China.

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A stevedore was called to repair an excavator in No. 3 cargo hold. However, he was later found lying on the spiral ladder in No. 2 cargo hold. After the incident, a stevedore supervisor entered No. 2 cargo hold with clothes covering his nose and mouth to rescue the stevedore.

Despite this, the stevedore supervisor collapsed inside the cargo hold. Some other stevedores also attempted to enter the cargo hold with masks, but went back because of strong odours. After receiving the report of accident from the duty officer of the vessel, the master organized a team for a rescue operation. The casualties were taken out from No. 2 cargo hold and declared dead by the shore medical team.

Probable cause

The investigation indicated that the contributing factors to the accident are the following:

  • The stevedores were not familiar with the working environment on board the vessel. The deceased stevedore made a mistaken entry into the No. 2 cargo hold which was in oxygen-deficient atmosphere and contained high contents of toxic gases;
  • The stevedores were lack of safety awareness of confined space entry. Even recognizing the stevedore had collapsed inside the access trunk of the cargo hold, they still entered the unventilated cargo hold without proper breathing apparatus;
  • The vessel’s crew failed to follow the shipboard Safety Management System to lock all accesses to cargo holds which had not been sufficiently ventilated for safety entry.

Lessons Learned

The Hong Kong Marine Department notes that the company’s procedures and instructions on handling of fumigated logs and entry into enclosed spaces should be strictly followed.

In addition, the stevedore company should provide effective supervision and adequate training to stevedores, especially:

  • Vessels’ confined space entry;
  • Communication with vessels’ crew about cargo handling procedures and precautions including risks of particular cargoes and the dangers involving the cargo operations and environment on board.