Fatal Short-Cut to Using the Gangway

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In the second case of its latest edition of the Safety Digest, the UK MAIB presented the risks associated with the insufficient training of shore workers on shipboard operations: The decision of a shore worker to disembark a vessel through the shell door instead of the gangway resulted in losing his life.

The incident

A small passenger vessel was alongside a berth it used regularly on its scheduled service to an off-lying island. The crew were waiting for the arrival of provisions and additional crew members before departure when a shore worker, whose job was to handle the vessel’s mooring lines from the quay, boarded via the vessel’s gangway for a cup of coffee with the crew.

The vessel was fitted with a shell door on each side of the main deck and an external belting that ran most of the length of the hull. When there were no passengers on board, the shell doors would normally be left open in port to improve lower deck ventilation. There were no barriers to guard the resulting openings.

The berth was close to the harbour entrance, and after the shore worker had boarded, the gangway was withdrawn as the vessel was rolling moderately at the berth in the swell.

When the crew had finished their drinks they returned to deck to continue preparations for departure, leaving the shore worker alone in the main deck saloon. A few minutes later they heard a cry from the side of the vessel and looked down to see that the shore worker was trapped on the belting, between the vessel’s side and a quayside fender. He had apparently decided to leave the vessel through the shell door and walk along the belting to an area where he would have been able to step across onto the quay.

The crew went to the man’s assistance but were unable to recover him back onto the vessel and they had to lower him into the water. One of the crew jumped into the water to keep the man afloat and conscious until a lifeboat arrived. The lifeboat was quickly on scene and recovered the man ashore for medical assistance.

However, despite the best endeavours of the crew and the emergency services, the shore worker died in hospital a short time later.

Lessons learned

  1. The shore worker’s training had not included shipboard operations and so he did not recognise the danger of using the shell door to disembark instead of the gangway.
  2. Owners should ensure that anyone they allow to access their vessels unescorted is trained in the potential hazards they may encounter on board.
  3. The crew regarded the line handler as a co-worker rather than as a visitor to the vessel.
  4. Procedures need to be in place to ensure that crews understand the importance of supervising and/or training visitors.
  5. The hazards associated with leaving the shell doors open and unguarded when in port, with no passengers embarked, had not been recognised. Owners and crews should ensure that risk assessments cover all aspects of their vessels’ operations.

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Source: UK MAIB

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