Fatal Fall Onboard! High Blood Ethanol Impaired Cognition

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The incident

Armata departed Tianjin, China in ballast on 15 January 2017 and anchored outside the limits of Tianjin port, awaiting orders.

At 0540, the chief mate on the bridge wing caught a glimpse of a person on the port boat deck. He hastened to the area and noticed that a crew member was lying motionless on his back near the staircase. A mobile phone set was nearby.

The chief mate hurried towards the unresponsive crew member but was later pronounced dead. The autopsy report revealed no narcotic or psychotropic drugs but showed presence of ethanol in blood (1.9 %) and in the urine (2.2 %). 

The MSIU has issued two recommendations to the Company, designed to ensure that the Company’s drug and alcohol policy is implemented.

The flag State Administration is also recommended to issue a Merchant Shipping Notice on the potential issues with excessive consumption of alcohol on board.

Probable cause

The autopsy revealed fatal injuries to the head and facial area and concluded blunt fatal head injuries, causing hypostasis and inturgescence of the brain, extensive haemorrhage under the meninges and focal bruises of the tissue of the brain. The report also said that the injuries could have been caused by a blunt trauma to the parietal area of the head, hitting a hard surface, probably several hours before death.

The toxicological tests of blood and urine revealed no narcotic or psychotropic drugs but identified 1.9 ‰ presence of ethanol in blood and 2.2 % in urine. The autopsy further stated that the specified concentration of ethanol in blood could correspond to a lifetime average degree of alcoholic intoxication.

The possibility of condensation on the cold staircase is not excluded, making the steps slippery. Moreover, the crew member was wearing jogging shoes which may have caused him to slip down the staircase. The crew member may have also missed his footing or handhold while using his mobile phone, the accident report says.

Conclusions:

  1. The cause of death was fatal injuries to the head and face;
  2. The toxicological tests of blood and urine revealed 1.9 ‰ and 2.2% presence of ethanol respectively;
  3. It was very probable that the crew member fell down the staircase to the deck, resulting in a traumatic shock and possibly loss of consciousness;
  4. Although no precipitation was reported, the possibility of condensation on the cold staircase was not excluded, making the steps slippery;
  5. The jogging shoes worn by the seaman may have caused him to slip down the staircase;
  6. The crew member may have missed his footing or handhold while carrying/using his mobile phone;
  7. High level of alcohol may have impaired cognition or caused poor coordination.

Recommendations:

Mariteam Services Inc. is recommended to:

  • Carry out unannounced and regular alcohol tests on board.
  • Bring this safety investigation report to the attention of all crew members serving on board company vessels to emphasis the implementation of the company’s drug and alcohol policy.

The flag State Administration (Merchant Shipping Directorate) is recommended to:

  • Issue a Notice to all managers of Maltese registered vessels, highlighting the potential safety issues as a result of excessive consumption of alcohol.

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Source: Transport Malta

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