Slowing the ship and changing course so waves are not breaking over the bow where the crew are working seems an obvious course of action, states The Nautical Institute in its latest Mars Report. Yet, on board a bulk carrier this was not the case. A wave crashing over the bow resulted in one fatality and four injuries.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

A loaded bulk carrier departed on an eastbound Atlantic crossing in winter. Four days into the voyage and with the weather deteriorating, heavy seas were coming on board. The master required that the spurling pipes be secured with cement, so the bosun and four crew proceeded forward for the task. The vessel’s speed was not reduced prior to the task nor was the safety management manual consulted. No toolbox meeting was held before the crew went forward.

As the men were working at the spurling pipes, the ship encountered a large wave which broke over the bow and violently washed the men off their feet, dashing them into the ship’s structure. One crew member suffered a serious head wound and the bosun was incapacitated. The victims were assisted back to the accommodation where the victim with the head wound was attended to. He was placed in the ship’s hospital but quickly lapsed into unconsciousness and was placed on oxygen.

The master diverted to the nearest port, which was 24 hours away. On arrival, the victim was rushed to hospital, but was declared deceased on arrival. The bosun, whose mobility was seriously impaired, was repatriated, as were the other three crew with lesser injuries.

Port state control officers boarded the ship and took statements from the master and some crew members. The safety management manual did not contain a “Going on deck during bad weather” checklist, which was nonetheless a moot point because the safety management system (SMS) was not even consulted before the task.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • The time-honoured practices of “Securing for sea” should be observed, particularly when embarking on an ocean crossing in winter. One of the best practices in this endeavour is ensuring the spurling pipe covers are placed, secured and cemented prior to departure.
  • Safety management manuals should contain guidance for all known risks and should be consulted as a matter of course – but so too should common sense be used before undertaking tasks. Slowing the ship and changing course so waves are not breaking over the bow where the crew are working seems an obvious course of action, but was not taken in this instance.
  • A toolbox meeting, held before a potentially hazardous operation is undertaken, can help reduce risks through input received from all team members taking part.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202136, that are part of Report Number 345. A selection of this Report will also be published in SWZ|Maritime’s September 2021 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.