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Risks and accidents in connection with mooring work during arrival and departure

The Swedish Accident Investigation Authority (SHK) is investigating an accident that took place in the autumn of 2018 on the Swedish ship Envik (S-238/18) in connection with its departure. A crewmember sustained severe injuries and later died in hospital after being crushed by mooring ropes as they were wound in. When SHK publishes its report on the accident we will report on it in more detail. Meanwhile, we will present some other incidents where crewmembers have been injured in connection with mooring.

Statistics on mooring accidents

Between 2009 and 2019, there were 52 incidents in the accident database related to the handling of mooring ropes and capstans. Three people died as a result of injuries that occurred during these processes. As well as the above-mentioned report on the Envik, you can also read about the Kurland (S-7/13) and the Morraborg (S-95/11) reports, which are available on the SHK website. The Morraborg report contains a discussion section on the areas that should be regarded as dangerous and tips on literature describing risk assessments and calculations on how a snapped mooring rope is likely to move. The Maritime Joint Work Environment Council has also highlighted risks during mooring in its publication SAN News no.3, 2017. The most common scenario, in 17 cases of 52, is that the mooring rope gets stuck and breaks, or recoils and hits someone. This type of accident often leads to fractures; in our statistics, 8. Getting a hand or foot stuck in a bight is equally common: 17 out of 52 cases.  In 8 of these 17 accidents it resulted in amputation of body parts for the person affected. It is not uncommon for personnel to hurt themselves when they jump ashore to lay on or lift off mooring ropes. Sometimes an injury occurs during the jump itself, sometimes personnel get stuck between the mooring rope and the bollard when the rope is being handled. There is really no other protection against this type of accident than being careful during preparations, always being aware of the risks, never working on your own or with worn equipment or under stress.

Statistics in Sweden

During the same time period as above, there were six fatal accidents in Sweden in which crewmembers and stevedores died after entering a hold or nearby unventilated space. In these cases the cargo was some form of organic material, such as wood products, coal or fish. In four of the six accidents, other people tried to enter the spaces to help without having any breathing aids and were themselves injured, on two occasions losing their own lives. Even if a person is saved from an oxygen-depleted space, there is a large risk that the brain sustains such severe injuries that the victim is harmed for life. During one of the most notorious accidents aboard the Saga Spray, one sailor died and another seven people were taken to hospital.

Mooring accident at a lock

When a ship was entering a lock at slow speed, with fore and aft ropes on bollards, the length of the rope that had been rolled onto the working capstan was not sufficient. The sailors decided to continue releasing the rope from the storage capstan and then put the excess onto the working capstan, which is a normal procedure. One sailor was operating the capstan and the other was ready to move over the last part of the rope, when the rope unexpectedly jumped over from the working capstan and hit the sailor who was handling the rope on the arm. The lash of the rope was so powerful that it broke his arm and required ambulance transport and sick leave. The company has dealt with the accident through debriefing with a risk analysis and extra training on snapback zones and ropes being wound in. To maintain risk awareness during moorings, it is important to review past accidents within the shipping company and discuss crewmembers’ own experiences of accidents and incidents of this type. It is always important to transfer experience, where older sailors can share lessons learned with less experienced colleagues, regardless of the context.

Personal injury during preparation of mooring equipment

After departure, two sailors were preparing the mooring ropes for arrival in the next port. One of the sailors operated the capstan on the starboard side using a remote control on the port side. The other sailor was on the starboard side to lay the rope correctly and remove the heaving line. When the starboard rope was almost wound on, the heaving line got stuck, became stretched and then snapped. The recoil hit the sailor over his knees and knocked him over. The vessel had to return to the quay and an ambulance was called. A fracture to the tibia and damage to soft tissue were verified at the hospital. This event shows what a tremendous force is accumulated in a rope that gets stuck, then breaks and recoils. In this case it was not even a mooring rope but a heaving line, which is not normally very coarse or heavy. Despite this, it caused extensive injuries.

Fall injury in a tank

While carrying out maintenance work in a ballast tank a sailor, equipped with fall protection, was about to descend into the tank. When the sailor moved between the ladder and the platform where the job was to be performed, he disconnected the fall protection. Somehow he lost his footing and fell down about five metres into the tank. Fortunately, he did not fall directly but bounced down the ladder onto the tank deck, but could not move due to pains in his hip, chest, shoulder and back. He was raised back onto the deck and could be evacuated from there. With this type of job it is good to use double-safety fall protection, so that one of the links can be moved while the person is still connected with the other. It is unfortunately difficult to be connected and secured in all situations, however. The spreading of information and repeated discussions about risks and how to avoid accidents are thus an important part of any organisation’s safety work. In this case too, the shipping company has worked actively with feedback on the accident and the transfer of experience within the company to reduce the risk of similar accidents reoccurring.

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