Damage to Accommodation Ladder
Report No. 200053
We had to anchor for approximately five hours waiting for a berth. While at anchor, numerous government officials and technicians came aboard via a launch and the accommodation ladder was used for boarding without incident. As our berth became available, the Chief Mate sent me down to greet the pilot. The pilot came out on our tug and the AB on watch asked me how he would be boarding. The pilot ladder was not rigged but the accommodation ladder was still set up from use with the launch. I made the decision to use the accommodation ladder.
The tug came alongside and the AB lowered the accommodation ladder to the tug's deck. As soon as the pilot started up the ladder, the tug started to pull away. Immediately it became apparent that something was seriously wrong. The ladder appeared to be "straightening out" at the swivel platform at the top of the ladder. What we could not see from deck, and the tug master could not see from his pilothouse, was that the accommodation ladder had been lowered on top of a set of bitts on the tug's deck, where it became hooked. The tug was pulling off our accommodation ladder.
I motioned for the pilot to go back to the tug since he was still closer to the tug than to the ship's deck and the tug master was still not aware of what was happening. But the pilot made his own decision to continue up to the deck. By this time, the deckhand on the tug figured out something was wrong and signalled to the tug master to stop. The pilot safely made it aboard but the accommodation ladder was seriously damaged. It was literally hanging on by a thread, or, in this case, one small steel plate was all that remained bonding the ladder to the ship. As this was the same side the ship was to berth, the port management had to make arrangements for the vessel to berth on the opposite side.
One of the primary causes of this accident was the failure of the deckhand on the tug, who was acting as a safety observer, to notice that the accommodation ladder was hooked on the bitts. Contributing to this was my decision, based on expediency, to use the accommodation ladder instead of lowering the pilot ladder. My decision, which had been the easy choice, had endangered the life of the pilot. Fortunately, no one was injured, but significant damage was caused to the accommodation ladder.