Pontoon Swings Dangerously and Entraps the Crew’s Head



Sultan Bey was on a voyage from Alexandroupoli, Greece to Marseilles, France. She was laden with 5,003 mt of wheat in bulk.

At about 1500 (LT), on 01 February 2017, the chief mate instructed the bosun to open the hatch covers to ventilate the cargo prior to the ship’s arrival.

Figure 1: Main deck showing location of the accident

While the bosun and three able seamen were preparing to open no. 1 cargo hold, a motorman, who was on duty in the engineroom, came on deck to clean the fuel oil vent overflow containment tray, located between hatch coamings nos. 1 and 2.

The bosun noticed the motorman and informed him of the plan and cautioned him to stay clear of the area. At 1530, the bosun started opening cargo hold no. 1, when he heard a loud scream. The operations were immediately halted and the motorman was discovered near the starboard over-flow containment tray, bleeding from the nose and ear.

The injured motorman had been at sea for about three years. He was 36 years old and qualified to STCW A-III/5 (able seafarer engine). The MSIU was informed that upon joining the Sultan Bey, he was briefed on safety and again when he was assigned the cleaning oil-water effluent from the containment trays.

Figure 2: Section of the GA plan, showing the location of the accident

Probable causes

The cargo hatch covers (Figure 2) are of the MacGregor type, consisting of several steel pontoons linked together with a chain. The opening of the hatch cover is controlled from a power control unit. The pontoons move on rollers, running on tracks fitted on the hatch coaming.

When the hatch covers are opened, the individual steel pontoons (pulled by the chain), roll up and tip onto a stowage space behind the hatch coaming. The pontoons in the stowed position tend to sway about the rollers.

Figure 3: Location of the accident as witnessed by the crew members

The crew members indicated that the motorman was injured on the upper part of the fuel air-vent post (Figure 3).

Considering that the injured crew member was wearing PPE, including a safety helmet and that he was not specifically told to reschedule the task, it is very likely that he did not suspect that the pontoon could swing so dangerously close to the fuel air-vent post, entrapping his head as he set about cleaning the containment tray (Figure 4).

It has to be stated that the crew members have neither seen the motorman move abaft the hatch coaming nor witnessed the accident. Moreover, despite several requests, the injured crew member declined to give a written statement or verbal explanation of events.

Figure 4: Deformed and damaged safety helmet

Actions Taken

During the course of the safety investigation, the Company has taken the following actions:

  • The accident has been discussed during the on board safety management system meeting;
  • Daily meetings are being held on board in order to ensure that there are no ‘job conflicts’;
  • Warning signs have been placed in the area;
  • Risk assessments have been revised and amended where necessary;
  • A safety bulletin has been distributed on board all Company vessels;
  • The accident has been discussed during Company safety seminars; and
  • Working procedures for the operation of cargo holds’ hatch covers have been amended.


Taking into considerations the actions taken by the Company and the vessel, no recommendations were made as a result of the safety investigation.

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Source: Transport Malta


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