"The chief mate, as well as others who overheard the radio communication, did not understand that the situation was critical."
Ma Lin had enjoyed the voyage. He’d received the extra training he wished foras well as gaining good experience as a deck repairman on a modern bulk carrier. He was pleased to think that he was improving himself and would soon be eligible to apply for work as an engine room fitter. Leave was beckoning and he was looking forward to it as he opened the hatch to gain access to the cargo hold. He swung his legs over the coaming and jauntily climbed down the ladder, followed by the Indian agent. Life was good.
The agent sniffed and, looking perplexed, he sniffed again wrinkling his nose. Uncertain,
he held his breath and continued to follow the deck repairman down to the first landing. Ma Lin, by then also sensing something wrong, and, panicking slightly as the penny dropped, grabbed the ladder and started to climb, two steps at a time, towards the open hatch. The agent was hot on his heels. Ma Lin lost consciousness near the top, the rung slipped out of his grip and he toppled backwards, brushing past the agent as he fell to the landing three metres below.
The agent scrambled to get out and, gulping the fresher air, he made his way to the gangway guard to tell him what had happened. In response, the guard, told the Russian chief mate in broken English over his VHF radio that the deck repairman required assistance “at the access to No 6 hold”. The chief mate, as well as others who overheard the radio communication, did not understand that the situation was critical for Ma Lin.
Using the VHF the chief mate instructed Qiao Hong, the AB on watch, to go to help the deck repairman. Qiao Hong, who was qualified and time served, headed for the starboard main deck passageway to assist his friend. The boatswain, a level-headed experienced man in his late fifties, and the 31 year old Ukranian second mate also overheard the conversation and, they too, headed towards the hold access with the intention of seeing what assistance might be needed.
As the boatswain reached the open hold access hatch, he looked down and saw Ma Lin lying, apparently unconscious, on the landing below. The second mate arrived at that moment and immediately climbed down to check the condition of the deck repairman. He got down to the landing, but he felt giddy and found it difficult to stay on his feet. With alarm
he realized the problem and, holding his breath, he chased up the ladder and out through the opening, where he pushed past the boatswain and ran aft to find the chief mate or master. On his way along the passageway he passed Qiao Hong, walking in the other direction. He didn't say anything: he was focused on the need to raise the alarm with the officers and, besides, he was feeling ill and disorientated.
Qiao Hong arrived at the access and was instructed by the boatswain to climb down to the landing with a harness, which the boatswain had just grabbed from a nearby store, and to fit it on Ma Lin. The boatswain had just seen the second mate climb down and return and, although he had noted the anxiety of the second mate’s expression, he did not suspect that there might be risks involved.
Qiao Hong, knowing nothing of the circumstances, climbed down to do as he had been instructed. As soon as he reached the landing he felt ill and, gasping, had just started to climb back up again when he, too, passed out and fell back across the prone, limp body of his friend...