202424: Enclosed space claims one victim but spares two others

29 Apr 2024 MARS

As edited from TSIB (Singapore) report TIB/MAI/CAS.122

A bulk carrier loaded with a cargo of coal was at anchor. Deck crew were tasked with greasing the dog handles of the hold access booby hatches. Some of the handles were rusted shut and needed to be disassembled before they could be greased.

Four crew members were working to free the dog handles at one of the booby hatches. The booby hatch was open while they were doing this, and a disassembled dog handle fell down the hatch. One man climbed down to retrieve it. As he climbed back up with the retrieved dog handle, he lost consciousness due to a lack of oxygen, fell and landed on the coal cargo about 3.5 metres below.

The alarm was immediately raised and the crew mobilised to rescue the victim. An officer arrived at the booby hatch with an Emergency Escape Breathing Device (EEBD) hood and entered the cargo hold through the booby hatch ladder. Meanwhile two air hoses were being connected to the air supply in an attempt to supply air to the hold. The officer that had entered the booby hatch with the EEBD soon came out, saying that it was difficult to breathe and hot in the cargo hold.

The chief cook, of his own accord, then took affairs into his own hands. He grabbed the two air hoses, a safety harness and ropes and descended into the hold to attempt a rescue. Within five minutes, the cook had managed to secure the safety harness below the arms of the victim and the crew on the main deck were able to pull him out; the cook exited the hold soon after. The victim was not breathing and there was no heartbeat or pulse. CPR was performed on the victim and he was evacuated ashore but to no avail – he was declared deceased.

Lessons learned

  • In an emergency rescue, the atmosphere of an enclosed space should always be considered unsafe unless confirmed otherwise.
  • An EEBD should never be used to rescue a victim in an enclosed space. This equipment is only for escaping from a compartment that has a hazardous atmosphere and should not be used for entering oxygen deficient voids or tanks on board ships.
  • Many enclosed space emergencies have claimed extra victims; persons attempting to rescue the initial victim have themselves succumbed to the lack of oxygen in the course of improvised and poorly executed rescue actions. In this case, the cook and the officer with the EEBD were just ‘lucky’.
  • Vessel leaders must take charge in situations such as this accident. The officer should never have entered the hold with only an EEBD and the cook should have been immediately stopped from entering the hold.
  • Although enclosed space rescue exercises are now mandatory on vessels, the ‘elephant in the room’ – the problem that is not discussed – remains the lack of standardised and comprehensive training for crew (how can you practise what you don’t know how to do?) and the lack of mandatory rescue equipment that should be kept on board. This paradox was raised in a Seaways article of June 2021 and can be accessed here
  • Another ‘elephant in the room’ is the unwritten understanding that, if the atmosphere is not breathable, an enclosed space rescue will be accomplished with firefighting breathing apparatus (BA) equipment. Although better than nothing, arguably, this equipment is very bulky and could hinder the rescue or otherwise be counterproductive. Slimline rescue BA equipment is available in other industries, but to date there is no requirement for its use in the marine industry. 
  • Another enclosed space rescue attempt gone wrong can be found at MARS202124.