Safety warning about working in enclosed spaces after the loss of life on a fishing vessel issued by MAIB

This urgent bulletin has been issued after working in a refrigerated saltwater tank resulted in a fatal accident on board fv Sunbeam (FR487) at Fraserburgh, Scotland.

Initial findings
At about 0900 on 14 August, Sunbeam’s crew arrived at the vessel’s berth ready to begin work. The vessel’s refrigeration plant had been shut down after landing the final catch at Lerwick, and its RSW tanks had been pumped out and tank lids opened in preparation for deep cleaning. At some time between 1200 and 1350, Sunbeam’s second engineer entered the aft centre RSW tank and collapsed.

At about 1350, the second engineer was seen lying unconscious at the aft end of the tank by a crewmate, who immediately raised the alarm. Three of the vessel’s crew entered the tank and tried to resuscitate the second engineer but they soon became dizzy, confused and short of breath. One of the crew managed to climb out of the tank unaided, the other two crewmen and the second engineer were recovered onto the open deck by two crewmen wearing breathing apparatus. The two crewmen made a full recovery, but the second engineer could not be resuscitated and died.

It is unclear when and why the second engineer entered the tank. However, evidence indicated that his intention was to sweep the residual seawater that had settled at the aft end of the tank forward into the tank’s bilge well. No safety procedures for entering or working in RSW tanks had been completed before he entered the tank.

Safety issues
– working in enclosed spaces is potentially hazardous, procedures for entering and working in them should be robust, understood and utilised
– enclosed space rescue plans need to be in place on all vessels, risks must be understood and rescue plans practised
– all crew members have a responsibility for their own safety, this is particularly important in respect of lone working

Recommendation
Sunbeam’s owners are recommended (S2018/129) to conduct risk assessments specifically for entering and working in RSW tanks and provide safe operating procedures for its crew to follow and appropriate levels of safety equipment to use.

Read the safety bulletin in full

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