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Health and safety

Enclosed spaces and unsafe pilot ladder safety issues concerns continue

27 July 2023

Concern over two disturbingly recurrent safety problems – entry into enclosed spaces and unsafe pilot ladders – has been raised in the annual report of the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

In his introduction to the report, MAIB chief inspector Captain Andrew Moll said the deaths of three stevedores onboard the Isle of Man-flagged bulk carrier Berge Mawson in 2022 was 'a stark reminder that the industry still has much work to do to mitigate the hazards posed by noxious atmospheres'.

The men died in a cargo hold while the 181,161dwt ship was loading coal at Bunyu anchorage in Indonesia in June 2022 and Capt Moll said the MAIB will have more to say about the case when it publishes its investigation report. However, he stressed, 'the safety lessons of ensuring that comprehensive safety briefs are conducted before working cargo, and that ship's crews take full ownership of access control, bear repeating here'.

Capt Moll also noted the initial results of the MAIB's analysis of feedback from more than 100 UK harbour authorities on pilot transfer operations. The Branch collected this information after raising concerns about some of the data it compiled last year.

Preliminary findings show that there were more than 400 incidents or accidents during the 96,000 transfers conducted with the use of a pilot ladder in 2022. One-quarter of these were the consequence of shackles rather than rolling hitches being used to secure the pilot ladder side reports and a further 23% occurred because of the poor condition of the pilot ladder.

A further 13% happened because handhold stanchions were not fit for purpose, while the remaining 39% of reported incidents and accidents involved issues such as the length of the ladder, its position against the hull, and incorrect rigging of the tripping line.

While the MAIB analysis showed that more than 99% of pilot transfers underway were completed safely, Capt Moll said he was disturbed that a full analysis of accidents could not be carried out because barely half the incidents had been reported to the Branch.

The potentially fatal consequence of falls together with the 'low-tech, high-risk embarkation and disembarkation of the pilot by ladder' means that continued management and oversight is required and the MAIB is to continue collecting data on the issues, he added.

Overall, the MAIB's annual report shows some signs of improved safety last year, with the number of reported casualties and incidents involving UK vessels worldwide or foreign flagged ships in UK waters totalling 1,263 – down from 1,530 in the previous year.

However, two UK merchant vessels of 100gt and above were lost in 2022 – both as a result of collisions – and these were the first such losses in more than a decade. And a total of 85 seafarers on UK merchant ships were killed or injured during the year, up from 78 in 2021.

Slips, trips and falls continued to be the most common cause of seafarer death or injury, accounting for more than 38% of all incidents, and deck spaces, galleys, and ladders and stairways were the most common accident locations.