Crew Dies After Entering In Bow Thruster Compartment


Transport Malta’s Marine Safety Investigation Unit (MSIU) issued an investigation report on the fatality of a crew member onboard. According to the report, the  ‘immediate cause of the accident was the entry into a space which had a significant presence of toxic gases suspended in the air’.

About the Incident

A tanker had discharged cargo and crew were ballasting at berth in preparation for departure and a voyage in ballast. About an hour later, a high bilge level alarm in the bow thruster compartment and crew members was sent to investigate. Going down to the bosun’s store level, he immediately noticed water escaping from the forepeak tank’s manhole. Overflowing water reached the bow thruster compartment entrance and cascading on the bow thruster motor. The situation was reported to the chief mate and the ballasting operation was stopped immediately. 

Chief engineer advised the electrician to inspect the motor for any water damage. The bow thruster’s electrical supply to the forward was isolated and both(boson and electrician) made their way to the compartment for the initial assessment of the condition. As part of the cleaning process, the electrician sprayed the motor with an electrical cleaner using a pneumatic spray gun. He then proceeded to the messroom and returned to the bow thruster compartment after 30 minutes. About 20 minutes later, the bosun went to check on the electrician and found him unconscious, lying over the bow thruster tunnel.

The bosun inform the master. Crew members were mustered and rescue attempts was made. Local Civil Protection Department was called to assist. About one hour after rescue operation, the electrician was recovered from the space and he was subsequently pronounced dead.


During investigation, it is found that: 

  1. Bow thruster compartment’s characteristics were similar to those of an enclosed space.
  2. The isolation of the bow thruster compartment’s electrical supply resulted in the ventilation of that space being switched off.
  3. Vaporised cleaning chemical would have been entrapped inside the bow thruster compartment.
  4. The electrician was not wearing any respiratory safety equipment.
  5. The use of the electro cleaner was critical, safety information that had not been communicated.

Lesson Learnt

  1. Some spaces are not officially an enclosed space, but have dangerous characteristics if certain conditions are present especially lack air circulation.
  2. Never rush into a space where collapsed crew member inside. Muster the emergency team and enter with breathing apparatus.
  3. Practice confined space emergency procedures on a variety of compartments on ship to determine which ones will be problematic.

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