202120 Fatal fall into hold

30 Mar 2021 MARS 2021

As edited from the Dutch Safety Board report published in 2020

A small multi-functional cargo vessel was at anchor and crew were preparing the holds for the next cargo. Earlier in the day, tween-deck pontoons had been removed from hold 1 and the hatches closed. The deck crew discovered there were insufficient stacking cones. One of the men told his colleagues he would look for additional stacking cones because he knew where several were located. 
The deckhand searching for the stacking cones descended into the entrance of hold 1. The area lighting, controlled from the bridge, was not switched on, so he was using a torch to see by. Suddenly, two other crew members nearby heard loud screaming coming from hold 1. One of the crew contacted the bridge to have the lighting turned on while the other went to investigate.
The victim was found at the bottom of hold 1 and appeared to be in great pain. It was established that the victim should be transferred as quickly as possible to a shore hospital. Some time later the victim was lifted on board the port authority boat by crane. Throughout this period the victim was conscious and responsive. 
Once on shore, the victim was transported to the local hospital but subsequently succumbed to fatal internal injuries.
The investigation found, among others, that the victim had entered through one of the door openings in place for use with the tweendecks – even though he knew that hold 1 was now without a tween-deck. Because there was no tween-deck, he fell about 12 metres into the hold. At the moment of the accident, the lighting in the hold was 
not switched on and, because the hatches were closed, hold 1 was in complete darkness. The lighting in the stairwell was also not switched on and the victim was using a small torch light.

 Lessons learned

  • On ships with multiple hold configurations, great care and failsafe precautions must be taken with doors leading to the hold. If these are not fully closed and locked prior to the removal of the pontoon decks, then grave accidents can occur, even to crew who are aware of the danger.
  • We often become preoccupied with the task at hand. In this case the victim walked through (or fell through) a door that he knew was unsafe but had probably not stopped to think, too engrossed in his present task of search for stacking cones.
  • Working in dark areas presents extra risks; always have local lighting illuminated for your work area if possible.