Lessons Learned: Immersion in cold water quickly reduces the ability to swim


The Incident

During January, fertilizer pellets were being loaded on board a small bulk carrier at one of its regular northern European ports of call. The quayside was very narrow, slippery with cargo and poorly lit.

Given that access to the quayside was via the ship’s gangway, the chief officer (CO) went ashore to check the vessel’s forward draught. As he stood at the edge of the quay looking at the draught marks, he slipped and fell three metres into the cold water, injuring his shoulder on the way down.

As he fell in the water, he shouted for help. Thus, a shore worker nearby heard the CO’s calls, threw him a lifebuoy and shouted to the ship’s master, who was on the bridge. In addition, the master immediately called the crew to assist.

As no ambulance was immediately available   the master arranged for a taxi to take the CO to the local hospital, where he was treated for the efects of cold-water shock and a dislocated right shoulder.

Lessons Learned

  • The Chief Officer that went ashore to check the draught was not wearing a life jacket and did not inform anyone. When he fell into the water it was fortunate that a shore worker heard him and raised the alarm.

Safety Digest highlights that

In different circumstances there might have been no-one around and the CO would have had to try to climb out of the water on his own. If lone working on a vessel, ensure that a responsible person is informed of your location, work intentions and timescale for completion. At the end of the work, report back that it has been completed.

  • Immersion in cold water quickly reduces the ability to swim, and therefore remaining afloat without the aid of a lifejacket can be difficult.
  • Every vessel’s safety management system should include the requirement to undertake a risk assessment for working near quay edges. The risk assessment should take into account the local environment at the time of undertaking the work, and appropriate risk reduction measures should be implemented.



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