Fatal Fumigant Poisoning Aboard Bulk Carrier


The Bahamas Maritime Authority published its report focusing on a fumigant accident onboard the Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier.

What Happened?

On the morning of 17 May 2022, the Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier, was at anchor outside Qinzhou, China, when an ordinary seafarer collapsed in a cargo hold containing soya beans. 

The alarm was raised and the chief officer who entered to help also collapsed. 

Both the chief officer and ordinary seafarer were recovered from the hold by a team wearing breathing apparatus. 

Both were transferred to a hospital ashore where the chief officer made a full recovery. The ordinary seafarer died as a result of exposure to lethal levels of phosphine gas.

Why did It happen?

The crew were carrying out a routine check on the condition of the cargo in the holds before discharge. 

Whilst the cargo had been fumigated at the load port, the holds were not considered to be dangerous as the vessel had a gas-free certificate, issued by fumigant removal contractors, and the hatches had been open and ventilated for some time. 

This was reinforced as entry into the other holds had occurred without incident the previous days.

There was no effective hazard identification so work commenced as planned.

As part of the pre-planning for discharge, an opportunity was missed to retest the space before crew entering to inspect the cargo for wet spots.

Lesson Learnt 

  • Fumigated cargoes are incredibly dangerous. Cargo holds that contain fumigated cargo should not be entered. Lethal doses of fumigant may remain in pockets or trapped within the cargo.
  • A gas-free certificate does not guarantee your safety. Even after a space has been declared gas-free and found to contain a safe atmosphere, local concentrations of toxic gas should always be suspected.
  • Risk assessments and associated control measures are ineffective if the hazards associated with a task are not identified – the presence of fumigant in the hold was not considered and therefore no steps to identify or control the risk were taken.
  • The enclosed space rescue training and familiarisation the crew had received were not sufficient to highlight a potential risk posed by the atmosphere before placing themselves in the way of potential harm. The chief officer did not consider that he would be exposed to the same hazard as the injured OS when entering the hold.
  • When personnel need rescue from an enclosed or dangerous space, and in the interest of saving lives, rescue operations should not be attempted until assistance has arrived and a planned approach can be made
  • The importance of following industry best practice guidelines, as well as company procedures when entering enclosed or dangerous spaces should be reaffirmed.

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