The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its report on the investigation into an accident where a tug’s chief engineer lost his life boarding his vessel.

Jason's Cradle MOB recovery system (MAIB)

Jason's Cradle MOB recovery system (MAIB)

The accident highlights the forever-present dangers seafarers including tug crews face in carrying out everyday tasks and the difficulties reacting to incidents despite the presence of well-prepared procedures and equipment.

The tug was carrying out typical shiphandling and standby duties at a UK oil terminal, on this occasion involving changing its standby berth due to inclement weather. While sailing, the tug’s chief engineer went ashore to release the mooring lines but fell through the gap between the fender and the oil stage while attempting to re-board.

He was wearing a full set of PPE including helmet, safety boots, hi-vis jacket and auto-inflating lifejacket with a PLB and crotch strap fastened. His lifejacket inflated automatically, and his crewmates quickly recovered him alongside the tug, they were unable to lift him from the water however as he become incapacitated in the cold water and lost consciousness.

He was recovered by a local rescue boat and despite its crew’s efforts applying CPR and being transferred to hospital the chief engineer suffered cold water shock followed by cardiac arrest from which he did not recover.

MAIB examined in detail the difficulties recovering persons from the water including use of rescue slings and davits, also Jason’s Cradles which the tug in question was equipped with. It is worth noting that despite the tug having a crew of four (including the chief engineer) they faced enormous challenges in attempting to recover him.

The investigation included a reconstruction of the operation and detailed examination of safety procedures of both tug owner and the oil terminal. It found that concerns regarding safe access to and from the company’s tugs and the terminal had been raised previously and that neither formally identified nor evaluated the shared risks associated with access.

Following the accident both tug owner and terminal operator conducted a joint risk assessment on the use of the terminal, the former also reviewing MOB recovery equipment across its global fleet and MOB drills within its European region. The MCA has issued instructions to its surveyors to ensure inspections of MOB recovery equipment and drills are witnessed at biennial inspections.

By Peter Barker