Electrocution of Fitter During Welding Repair – Investigation Report

On January 2010, the Hong Kong registered general cargo vessel Suntec departed the port of Huangpu, China after loading 19 300 tonnes of river sand to be discharged at the port of Keelung, Taiwan. On the next morning the deck fitter was assigned to carry out electric arc welding repair on the bulwark on the main deck at the port side near a cargo hold. While the fitter was carrying out the welding repair, seawater suddenly rushed up the deck through the opening between the deck and the bulwark plate and dampened his body. He screamed after suffering from electric shock and fell unconscious on the deck.

2013.01.14 - Electrocution of Fitter During Welding Repair Figure 1

The vessel’s forward and aft drafts were 9.08 metres and 9.15 metres respectively. At the beginning of the voyage the weather was drizzling with light breeze and small wavelets at sea. The Chief Officer assigned the deck fitter to carry out electric arc welding repair on the bulwark on the port side main deck near No.5 cargo hold, with two seamen assisting him.

2013.01.14 - Electrocution of Fitter During Welding Repair Figure 2

Left – Port side main deck
Right – Port side main deck near No. 5 cargo hold

The weather was overcast, with force 6 wind and sea waves of 2.5 to 3.0 metres in height. The vessel was moving against the winds. Seawater was occasionally rushing up the deck near No.1 and 2 cargo holds.

The repair work went smoothly during the morning. At about 1330 in the afternoon, the deck fitter returned from lunch break and carried on with the welding repair. The two seamen helped by cutting some steel plates at a place about 10 metres away from the deck fitter.

Before the accident, the weather was cloudy, with slight breeze and moderate waves at sea. The vessel was moving against the winds and almost no seawater was seen rushing up the deck. At about 1440, while the deck fitter was welding on the bulwark, seawater suddenly rushed up the deck through the opening between the deck and the bulwark plate and dampened his body. He screamed after suffering from electric shock and fell unconscious on the deck.

The Bosun working near the deck fitter immediately ran to the welding machine to cut off the electrical power supply. He then asked the seamen to help carry the deck fitter into the corridor inside the crew accommodation for rescue. At the time of the accident, the vessel was passing the Strait of Taiwan 35 miles from Shanwei, China.

Seeing that an accident had happened, the duty Second Officer on the bridge immediately informed the Master, who was in his cabin. The Master arrived at the corridor in the accommodation and found some crew members trying to resuscitate the deck fitter. The Chief Officer was also there in charge of the rescue operation.

The deck fitter’s eyes and mouth were seen to have opened for a short moment during the rescue, but his condition kept deteriorating. At about 1500, the Master reported the accident to the company and sought assistance from the Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (HKMRCC) and the Shanwei Rescue Centre (Shanwei RCC). The Master also ordered the
vessel to head for the port of Shanwei, China.

At 1510, the HKMRCC received the message from the Master of the vessel. The deck fitter was airlifted from the vessel by a rescue helicopter deployed by the Government Flying Services of Hong Kong, China.

Later on that day, the rescue helicopter delivered the deck fitter to the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Hong Kong, China, where he was certified dead at 1825 on 23 January 2010.

The investigation revealed that the following factors that led to the accident:

  • Before commencement of the work, the risks of electric shock and electrocution to the deck fitter was not fully assessed by the Master of the vessel
  • No assistant was assigned to watch and alert the deck fitter of seawater rushing up the deck during the welding operations.
  • The Master of the vessel did not strictly follow the company’s instructions when approving the relevant hot work permit
  • Tthe Chief Officer and the crew did not strictly follow the safety precautions during the hot work
  • The Chief Officer did not supervise the repair work properly
  • The return cable of the welding machine was not connected to the workpiece
  • The officers and crew did not receive adequate training or fully understand the company’s instructions for hot work and the purpose of the permit.

Source: Hong Kong Marine Department


  1. Welding machine performs the function of creating an arc which may be due to electric short or gas to melt a puddle of molten metal on to the other medium where joining is to take place.

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