Reflections and highlights from UK Maritime Safety Week

This year’s Maritime Safety Week commenced on 4 July. Over the course of the week, a series of blogs reiterating safety messages to the industry were published by the MAIB. A few of the highlights are published below.

Andrew Moll OBE
Opening Maritime Safety Week, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, Andrew Moll OBE, said:
“Today marks the start of Maritime Safety Week 2022, an important moment when the marine industry comes together to focus on how we can collectively continue to improve safety across the sector. As the MAIB has done in previous years, this week we plan to highlight a number of key areas of ongoing concern and reiterate the safety messages that the industry must note.

“Today I am going to concentrate on fishing vessel safety, which continues to require my close attention. In 2021, ten commercial fishermen lost their lives and nine out of the 22 investigations commenced by MAIB last year involved commercial fishing vessels. However, we will not lose focus on improving safety and will continue to strive to understand the causes of accidents on board fishing vessels so lessons can be learned, and more tragedies can be averted in this most dangerous of professions.

“Stability on board fishing vessels is a significant ongoing safety issue. The recent reports looking into the tragic accidents on board the potting vessels Nicola Faith and Joanna C have highlighted how modifications can compromise a vessel’s stability. However, stability can also be compromised during fishing operations by, for example, overloading, which was the case in the accident involving Nicola Faith. The vessel had undergone several unapproved modifications, but our investigation found that the main trigger for the capsize was severe overloading by a combination of catch and fishing gear. The consequence in this accident was that all three crew members lost their lives.

“At the start of Maritime Safety Week, I would encourage all skippers and crews to take a long hard look at their vessel’s stability and ask themselves some potentially challenging questions. How much have modifications eroded our vessel’s stability since it was built? Do we have a safe procedure for when the fishing gear becomes snagged or picks up a heavy load? Are we using the fish hold to best effect to minimise the weight on deck? I would urge crews to take a look at the Nicola Faith and Joanna C reports and heed the lessons the investigations identified.”

One small step for maritime safety – the issue of unsafe pilot ladders

The MAIB’s Annual Report published in June highlighted the issue of unsafe pilot ladders, a concern that has been regularly voiced by the industry. In 2021, the branch received almost 200 reports about substandard pilot ladders. Of those, 87% of the ladders were rigged incorrectly and the remainder were observed by the marine pilot as being materially defective – see image. Fortunately, serious accidents have been rare, but the potential for injury and even loss of life clearly exists.

To mark this year’s Maritime Safety Week, MAIB inspector Bill Evans has highlighted the key issues surrounding pilot ladders and his views on why they are so important.

Why is improving pilot ladder safety so important?
Marine pilots play a critical role in the safe operation of any harbour, where they guide almost every vessel in and out of the port. However, while the size and technological complexity of ships has increased, marine pilots still embark and disembark moving vessels by using a rope pilot ladder. The pilot transfer is a hazardous operation, so it is absolutely essential that these ladders are correctly rigged and their use properly supervised by the crew.

What are the things you should look out for when inspecting the safety of a pilot ladder?
The crew must inspect the pilot ladder before and after its use to verify that it is in good condition:
– ensure the ladder is in date by checking the maker’s plate, normally found underneath one of the lower spreaders;
– inspect the ladder’s side ropes to ensure that they are undamaged and in good condition;
– check the ladder’s steps, making sure they are undamaged, clean, evenly spaced and horizontal;
– replace the ladder if there are any signs of damage, no matter how small. Someone’s life may depend on it.

How do you rig a pilot ladder so it is safe?
To rig a pilot ladder correctly, it must be secured to strong points on the ship’s deck by a rope stopper attached to the ladder’s side ropes. Some of the reported incidents of substandard rigging have included the use of shackles or guardrails, which should never be used to secure the ladder. When a combination of accommodation and pilot ladder is being used, the lower platform of the accommodation ladder must be horizontal and secured to the ship’s side so that the pilot can safely transition between the two. On some larger container vessels, a trapdoor arrangement is used, in which case the pilot ladder must extend above the platform to ensure that the marine pilot can safely transfer.

Finally, it is imperative that the pilot ladder is supervised by a qualified officer when in use, ready to take action if things go wrong.

Overall, what is the key advice you would give to someone who has a pilot ladder?
The three most important points are:
– inspect the pilot ladder before and after use;
– ensure it is well lit and rigged correctly;
– supervise its use, with a suitably qualified officer at the embarkation point who is in direct communication with the bridge and has lifesaving appliances close at hand, ready to respond if something goes wrong.

A reminder about mooring deck safety

MAIB took the opportunity during Maritime Safety Week to raise awareness of essential components for safer mooring operations.

Over the years, MAIB has seen many incidents where seafarers have been struck by mooring lines, unfortunately in some cases resulting in serious injury or death. Our Annual Report recently highlighted that such incidents continue to occur despite well published guidance on the subject. Even though there have been many advances in technology and automation in the shipping industry, mooring decks remain a place where people need to work in proximity to heavy lines under tension and interaction is unavoidable. Therefore, it is important that the safety guidance is followed. Below, we have emphasised three key components for safer mooring operations.

Making sure the right equipment is used and then maintained in good condition is essential to keeping safe on mooring decks. Mooring lines need to be regularly inspected to make sure that wear and tear has not degraded the line, there are no hard spots on synthetic lines and no signs of contamination by oils and greases. The lead of each mooring line needs to be considered carefully to avoid placing additional stress on the lines or introducing chafe points. Inappropriate or poorly maintained equipment has previously contributed to incidents where lines have parted or released under tension and struck crew members, therefore meticulously checking equipment for anything untoward is critical for the safety of the crew.

Planning and Briefing
Planning is important when conducting any mooring deck operations. The risk assessment and control measures should be reviewed for each new operation and planning should take account of the expected mooring configuration, paying particular attention to the potential risk of snapback. Areas where mooring deck operations take place need to be kept tidy and mooring lines should be closely monitored on all berths – this is vitally important when there is a large range of tide. Planning effectively also involves making sure that all seafarers are adequately briefed on the mooring configurations, that they know what to do, and that they are positioned on parts of the deck that are less dangerous. Enough crew should be on deck to conduct the job safely, but too many crew should be avoided as it can unnecessarily place others at risk.

Finally, crew communication is of the utmost importance when working on mooring decks, because it has the potential to be extremely hazardous if people are not able to interact clearly. Everybody involved in an operation needs to communicate effectively, but must also consider the number of circuits in use: too many voices on the same circuit can cause confusion and risk over-talking; however, using separate circuits can leave some crew in the dark. Ultimately, effective communication can be the difference between being safe and putting people at risk, therefore it is important that the mooring plan ensures that good communications can be maintained between all parties involved in the mooring operation.

For more information go to the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers (COSWP) guidance at:

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