2018 was the worst year on record for personal injury accidents and fatalities on ships carrying solid bulk cargoes, with at least 24 reported fatalities. Two recently released investigation reports highlight stevedore fatalities in enclosed spaces.
The first report, issued by the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority, involves the death of a stevedore on board the MV Declan Duff during the discharge of a coal cargo in Oxelosund, Sweden, on March 16, 2018.
The second report, issued by Transport Malta, involves the death of a stevedore on board the MV A Navigation during the discharge of a coal cargo in Port Kelang, Malaysia on April 1, 2018.
Both accidents appear to have occurred on the upper platforms of enclosed hold access ladders; one due to oxygen depletion in the space and the other due to the ignition of a pocket of methane gas. Although the hatches on both ships had been opened for two days when the accidents occurred, they follow a number past accidents reported here and identified by Captain Kevin Cribbin here.
The Declan Duff Incident
In conjunction with discharging of coal from the bulk carrier Declan Duff, a casual laborer died from oxygen deficiency when he entered an unventilated spiral ladder leading down to one of the cargo holds. Information that the spiral ladders were enclosed, and that this entailed a risk, had been sent by the vessel to the port in preparation of the discharging. The information that the spiral ladder was enclosed and that the vertical ladder had to be used had not been passed on to all the dockworkers involved.
The investigation showed that the dockworker’s introductory training had not included the element “large bulk – discharging coal and coke,” and he had not previously been involved in discharging coal. The hatch foreman of the shift did not have cargo manager training, and the resource planning manager did not have full information regarding the training and experience of the deceased dockworker.
The A Navigation Incident
The A Navigation was alongside in Port Kelang, Malaysia, discharging a cargo of steamed coal. While the chief mate and the shore foreman were conducting their routine inspection of the cargo holds, a burning smell was noticed coming from the entrance hatch to cargo hold no. 3. On investigation, they discovered the body of one of the stevedores, lying on the upper platform of the access ladder to the cargo hold. The stevedore had severe burns to his upper body and was without any personal protection equipment.
Although, the exact reason for the accident could not be accurately ascertained by the safety investigation, it was suspected that a pocket of methane gas and coal dust ignited at the top of the ladder. It was apparent that the stevedore had entered the compartment without prior consent. However, the reason for this was unknown - perhaps it was to see if he could later gain access to the cargo hold through this access.
The fire happened after the grating had been opened. Academic literature suggests two ways by which a mixture of coal dust / methane could ignite. Auto-ignition can happen if the temperature is high enough to reach the auto-ignition temperature (around 530 °C). An electrical failure or spark was ruled out as the source of ignition. The safety investigation could not determine whether smoking took place inside the space, although no cigarette butts were found on site.