The German Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation published its interim investigation report (BSU report) about an accident with subsequent loss of life on board the Containership SEOUL EXPRESS, on 27 March 2021. On 27 March 2021, the container ship SEOUL EXPRESS was about 52 nm off the Mexican coast en route from Manzanillo, Mexico, to Long Beach, USA. The vessel was operating on a liner service between various ports in the Mediterranean, Central America and the west coast of North America.
Towards the end of the morning 4-8 watch, the watchman began his usual round of checking the temperatures of the loaded fish meal containers at 0700 on instruction of the Chief Officer. For this purpose, eleven containers in the bays 10, 29 and 31 were to be checked on this voyage. Since fish meal, depending on its composition, is assigned to the dangerous goods (sub-) classes 4.2 and 9 in accordance with the IMDG Code and thus to substances liable to spontaneous combustion, daily temperature checks of this cargo are necessary.
Using VHF (very high frequency) hand-held radio, the watchman regularly reported from his rounds to the officer on watch on the bridge – according to standard procedure, always when entering and leaving each individual hold.
At about 0715, the watchman reported entering and shortly afterwards leaving the cargo hold No. 1 to inspect the containers in bay 10. At about 0730, the Chief Officer received a message from his watchman over handheld radio that he was now entering the cargo hold No. 3 in bay 29. The four fishmeal containers stowed in bay 29 were below deck in the lowest tiers (02, 04, 06 and 08) and in row 01, located midships, slightly to starboard.
As there was no further report of the watchman leaving hold No. 3 received on the bridge and the watchman could not be reached by radio the Chief Officer notified the Master before 0800. A search for the missing crewmember was then immediately initiated.
At about 0809, the search party found the access hatch to cargo hold No. 3 in bay 29 open. The Chief Officer checked the atmosphere in the cargo hold using a gas detector and determined neither a low oxygen level nor hazardous gases. Thereupon, he entered the cargo hold, descended the ladder below the access hatch by one deck and called out for the watchman. He did not receive an answer and descended one deck further. From there, he could see the missing person lying motionless on the No. 4 stringer deck. The Chief Officer decided to carry out the further evacuation using a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
At about 0817, the Chief Officer and an AB (AB1) descended into the cargo hold No. 3 both wearing a SCBA and reached the casualty two minutes later on the No. 4 stringer deck. He suffered a bleeding wound at the back of his head and showed no reaction. The Chief Officer tried in vain to find a pulse on both the neck and wrist.
At about 0900, the unconscious watchman was taken to the ship’s hospital by spineboard on the Master’s instructions. There, resuscitation was continued and another unsuccessful attempt was made to revive the watchman using the defibrillator.
In the evening of the following day, the SEOUL EXPRESS reached Long Beach anchorage (Outer Harbour Anchorage) and anchored there at 1948 local time (UTC – 7). At 2200 local time, three forensic scientists from the Long Beach City Coroner Team embarked the ship to examine the deceased and transported him ashore an hour later.
Factors that contributed to the accident
In the course of the preliminary accident investigation (primarily evaluation of the files) several factors were identified that could have contributed to the accident and its consequences. These were then investigated more closely.
– general dangers when working at height;
– implementation of the occupational health and safety on board;
– the general ship design framework (ladders in cargo holds with the risk of falling);
– the health condition and the fitness for sea service of the casualty;
– the emergency response management of the crew;
– the safety culture onboard and in the company as well as the implementation of ISM Code.