Not having a full view of the work area and not all crew involved having a means to communicate contributed to a fatal accident during tweendeck pontoon removal. The Nautical Institute cover the incident in its latest Mars Report.

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 general cargo vessel had berthed and was discharging cargo from the upper port cargo hold. The tweendeck had been emptied and next the pontoons would be removed in order to access more cargo below.

The vessel’s crew began the tweendeck pontoon removal, a job they knew well. One crew member was assigned to operate the crane. One seaman was assigned as signal man and was equipped with a portable two-way radio to communicate with the crane operator. He was assisted by another crew member. Together, they would be rigging (hooking-on) the tweendeck pontoons in the cargo hold.

The two crew were positioned in the forward part of the cargo hold, where they would hook the pontoons on to the crane. A third crew member was assigned to un-hook the pontoons once they were laid down on top of other tweendeck pontoons against the bulkhead in the aft part of the cargo hold. This crew member had to shelter in a safe position aft until the first pontoon was laid down on deck. The dedicated safe position during the manoeuvring was inside a passage between the port and starboard holds.

Also read: Fatal collapse of portable tweendeck

The first pontoon was hooked on and, once at a safe distance, the signal man gave hoisting orders to the crane operator through his portable two-way radio, as well as the usual hand-signal. As tension came on the slings, the signal man checked that the pontoon was well slung and that the other crew member was in the dedicated safe position. The signal man signalled the crane operator to hoist and move the pontoon by means of hand signals and verbal commands.

The crane operator first lifted the pontoon approximately 1.5 metres by hoisting the crane hook. To move the pontoon aft, he then raised the boom of the crane while lowering the hook. By doing so, the pontoon was kept more or less stable at the same height whilst moving aft.

The lifted pontoon did not make any uncontrolled movement. The pontoon was not swinging or turning. Reportedly, nothing unusual was heard or seen until the signal man saw that the crew member who was supposed to be sheltering aft to unhook was lying on the deck. The signal man raised the alarm with the VHF radio and stopped the operation. The victim was given first aid and a doctor came to the scene, but he was declared deceased.

Also read: ‘Ships with multiple hold configurations need failsafe precautions’

Investigation findings

The investigation found, among other things, that because the pontoon itself had blocked a proper and full view of the work area, neither the signal man nor the crane operator had been able to see that the victim had entered the danger zone between the bulkhead and the hoisted pontoon.

Although the victim knew to stay in the designated shelter area until the pontoon was safely down, it is possible he attempted to quickly remove some cargo debris as the lift was under way.

Also read: Lack of physical barriers results in dredger’s master being crushed between crane and cargo hold

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Human nature is such that we want to get the job done – the “can do” attitude, which probably explains the victim not remaining in the designated safe area. The “can do” attitude can be perilous if we ignore established procedures in the process.
  • The victim did not have a VHF radio so he would have been unable to stop the operation, had he seen this was necessary.

Also read: Crew member crushed by tweendeck pontoon

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202348 that are part of Report Number 372. A selection of the Mars Reports are also published in the SWZ|Maritime magazine. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published (in full) 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.

Picture: The dedicated safe position during the manoeuvring was inside a passage between the port and starboard holds is indicated by the blue arrow.