Fatality inside a Product Tanker Cargo Tank


A product tanker was awaiting orders for the next voyage while anchored and the deck crews were assigned to carry out cargo tanks demucking and cleaning over a period of a few days. Cargo tanks gas-freeing and forced ventilation including all the necessary documentation & checklist certifying the tanks suitable for man entry were completed prior to commencing work in accordance with the Company's Safety Management System (SMS). The provision of ventilation is meant to continue during the entire cargo tanks cleaning operation and any stoppage in ventilation or the expiry of the Entry Permit required the reassessment of the atmospheric condition inside the cargo tanks.
On this particular day, the deck crews had stopped work for lunch, during which an onset of rain ensued. Due to what appeared to have been a miscommunication, the deck crews awaited to resume their work inside one of the cargo tanks. In the meantime, the Chief Officer and other crew members went ashore. Due to the rain, the ventilation was discontinued and it was not subsequently determined if the atmospheric condition within the cargo tank was suitable for entry. Using an inappropriate mask, one of the deck crew (Seaman) proceeded into the cargo tank with the intention of retrieving a piece of equipment. The Master was unaware of the crew's movements on deck, based on the Chief Officer's information that the deck crews were only planned to resume work the following day.
With a strong odour of gas emanating from the cargo tank, a fellow crew member attempted to dissuade the Seaman from entering the cargo tank. However, based on the fact that this had been done before, he entered the tank utilising the mask as seen in the photo below. While inside, his physical movements were observed to become abnormal and he eventually succumbed to the toxic gas vapour and collapsed to this death.
  1. The Chief Officer is said to have instructed the deck crews to take the afternoon off and resume work the following day. This was communicated to the Master prior to the Chief Officer going ashore.
  2. The deck crew had utilised the similar type of mask previously for cargo tank cleaning. They were thus of the knowledge that such masks were appropriate and safe enough.
  3. Although work was said to be adjourned for the day, the cargo tank was not secured and equipment remained inside.
  4. The casualty had acted on his own and was not instructed or assigned to enter the cargo tank.

Lessons Learnt

  • Ship owners and operators should review their operational procedures and Safety Management System (SMS) to ensure a proper system of communication in the assignment and monitoring of job tasks

  • The ship's crew is to be educated on the use and types of personal safety equipment for the various operations on board

  • No jobs are to be undertaken without the knowledge and supervision of a responsible Officer on board