The incident

During the morning of 25 May 2019, Riga commenced loading a cargo of glass cullet, in Porto Marghera, Italy, and had completed loading in the evening of the same day. The vessel departed from Porto Marghera in the morning of 26 May and was bound for Antwerp, Belgium, to unload this cargo.

On 27 May, the cargo hold bilge alarm activated. The chief engineer went to the bridge and informed the chief officer, who was on watch, about the alarm. He requested the chief officer to check if water was present in the cargo hold, to which the chief officer replied that entering the cargo hold would be dangerous.

The chief officer then called the able seafarer over the telephone, asked him to open the cargo hold’s aft access hatch cover and to visually check for the presence of water from the deck.

On reaching the main deck, the able seafarer found the chief engineer and the wiper on the deck, wearing hard hats, coveralls, gloves and safety shoes. The three of them then proceeded to the cargo hold’s aft access hatch and opened it.

On opening the hatch cover and looking inside using a torch light, they noticed water inside the cargo hold. The chief engineer then asked the wiper to go to the engine room and prepare the bilge system to pump out the water, while he and the able seafarer remained near the access hatch.

The able seafarer noticed the chief engineer entering the cargo hold. On being questioned by the able seafarer, on the necessity to access the cargo hold, the chief engineer informed him that he wanted to check whether the water present inside was seawater or freshwater.

When the chief engineer was about a few metres below the entrance, the able seafarer saw him suddenly fall into the cargo hold. He called out to the chief engineer and, on not receiving a response, immediately went into the accommodation and informed the bridge via telephone.

The chief officer raised the general alarm and informed the master about the accident. The crew members prepared for rescue of the chief engineer and the third officer, wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) entered the cargo hold.

The third officer secured the chief engineer to a stretcher, following which, at around 1920, the chief engineer was hoisted up onto the deck. The crew members noted that they could neither find a pulse nor a heartbeat, his breathing had stopped and the colour of his skin was bluish. The crew members tried to resuscitate him, while the Italian Coast Guard was informed on the accident. The vessel, around this time, was reported to be about 17 nautical miles off the port of Vieste, Italy.

On noticing no response by the chief engineer, the crew members ceased the resuscitation efforts. The master then notified the local authorities that the chief engineer had passed away. Due to unfavourable conditions, the local authorities instructed the vessel to proceed towards the port of Manfredonia.

The following morning, the vessel arrived and anchored off the port of Manfredonia, Italy. Following an investigation by medical and legal personnel of local authorities, the body was transferred from the vessel to be transferred to the local morgue.

Probable cause

An autopsy and toxicology tests were conducted in Italy. The autopsy report attributed the death of the chief engineer to acute asphyxia which resulted from a high concentration of Carbon Dioxide.

  1. The safety investigation did not exclude the possibility that the high blood alcohol content (1.6gl-1 ), found during the toxicology of the deceased chief engineer, contributed to his fall into the cargo hold.
  2. The atmosphere of the cargo hold was not measured by the crew members, prior to the Chief Engineer’s entry into the hold.
  3. Evidence suggested that the crew members were not familiar with the use of the vessel’s gas detector.
  4. The depletion of Oxygen and the build up of toxic and flammable gases, in the cargo hold, were most likely the result of the cargo’s inherent properties as well as the cargo hold being an enclosed space.
  5. The cargo was classified under Group C of the IMSBC Code i.e., it was neither liable to liquefy nor possess chemical hazards. However, the report issued by the port authorities, at the port of loading, recommended caution to be exercised before entering the cargo hold.
  6. It appeared that the crew members were not aware of the hazards of the cargo and the safety recommendations issued at the port of loading.
  7. Fatigue was not completely excluded as a contributory factor to the occurrence.
  8. It was hypothesized that the water in the cargo hold’s bilges had emanated from the cargo itself.

Recommendations

The Company was recommended to:

  • Review its procedures to ensure that all shipboard officers are trained in the correct use of the gas detectors provided on board.
  • Review its procedures to ensure that all cargo-related safety documentation is provided on board in the English language, or with a translation into the English language.
  • Review its procedures to further enhance compliance of the Company’s Drug and Alcohol Policy.