Fatal Fall Overboard! Risk of Working Aloft


A reconstruction to show how the aluminium ladder had been rigged

Malta’s Marine Safety Investigation Unit (MSIU) issued an investigation report, on the case of the fatal fall overboard of a chief mate in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, on 28 April 2016. The report aims to determine the circumstances and safety factors of the accident and to prevent further marine casualties or incidents from occurring in the future.

The incident

On 28 April 2016, the Maltese-registered ship Seagull was at anchor outside Trincomalee port, Sri Lanka, awaiting supply of bunkers. In order to read the draught marks, a ladder was rigged above the starboard marks.

MV Seagull

At about 1730, the chief mate read the draught and while on his way up the ladder, he fell into the sea. The deck-boy, who was standing-by on the poop deck, threw the nearest lifebuoy and raised the man overboard alarm. The chief mate managed to grasp the lifebuoy but before long, his body became limp.

The deck-boy and two crew members jumped into the sea and kept his face out of the water. They managed to administer CPR, however, he was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Safety actions taken during the course of the safety investigation:

Following the accident and the internal investigation carried out by the Company in terms of Section 9 of the ISM Code, the DPA attended all Company vessels to highlight the importance of safety management system procedures.


  1. The chief mate may have suffered from a medical condition which caused his fall overboard;
  2. The aft draught gauges in the control room were faulty;
  3. On-board assessment of risk for the reading of draught marks was not usually carried out;
  4. The rescue boat was not used to read the draught marks since it was considered inappropriate for the task;
  5. The chief mate saw no other option but to improvise a way to read the aft draught marks;
  6. The improvisation by the chief mate was carried out without a clear mental model of the risks involved, but with the intention to complete a step as part of the bunkering procedure.

The ship’s rescue boat


Blue Seas Shipping S.A. is recommended to ensure that, where fitted, the draught gauges are operational, in order to minimise the exposure of crew members to the risk of working aloft.

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Source: Transport Malta