Lessons Learned: A Nerve-Racking Accident


MAIB reports of a nerve-racking accident where a stevedore suffered nerve damage, sickness and disorientation after handling cans of fumigant.

The Incident

A stevedore suffered nerve damage, sickness and disorientation after handling cans of fumigant while unloading sweet potato pellets from a general cargo vessel. The fumigant was later identified as aluminium phosphide. It had been placed among the bags of cargo by the vessel’s crew during loading to control insect infestation. The fumigant had not been deployed by specialist fumigators due to COVID-19 access restrictions that were in force at the loading port.

The untrained crew incorrectly deployed the fumigant, which did not fully volatilize or disperse during the 5-month voyage to the cargo’s discharge port and so presented both a fire hazard and poisoning risk. The crew did not record the use of fumigant on board and the discharge port was unaware of its presence among the cargo. The ship’s cargo holds were tested for oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and lower explosive limit before the stevedores discharged the cargo. When the stevedores started working in the holds they soon began to find the cans of fumigant among the bags of sweet potato pellets (see figure). The cans were marked with hazard symbols and the stevedores showed them to their supervisor; however, the cargo work was not suspended for several hours, by which time some of the stevedores had been in contact with the aluminium phosphide. The next morning one of the stevedores became unwell and required hospital treatment for sickness, disorientation and nerve damage to his hand.

Several hundred cans of fumigant were later removed from the cargo vessel’s holds by a specialist contractor. It took several months for the injured stevedore to recover and be fit  enough to return to work.

The Lessons

  • Qualified: Fumigation of a ship’s cargo is a specialized operation that should not be undertaken by untrained crew or stevedores.
  • Risk: Before unloading operations start, fumigated cargo holds must be tested by qualified fumigators and any residual fumigant removed. Port operators are reminded to be vigilant for potentially risky cargoes and to check with ship operators whether fumigants have been used on board.
  • Hazard: Cargo holds can be a hazardous environment; stop work if you find something unusual and check if it is safe to proceed.
  • Equipment: Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including coveralls, gloves, face masks and respirators, must be worn when handling fumigants.
  • Procedure: Masters, owners and charterers are reminded of the contents of IMO Circular MSC.1/Circular.1264 – Recommendations on the Safe Use of Pesticides in Ships Applicable to the Fumigation of Cargo Holds, which details the safe use of fumigants, measurement of fumigant levels on board ships and the responsibility to notify port authorities of the potential presence of fumigants on board.

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Source: MAIB


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