Fatal Fall Overboard on Ice Covered Water – Investigation Report

On 12 Feb 2009 at 18:30 OOCL Nevskiy berthed at Mussalo Harbour, Port of Kotka. The unloading of its containers began right away. After the incoming containers destined for Kotka
were unloaded, the loading of outgoing containers began at 21:30. The ship’s deck department secured the loaded containers with lashing wires. A seaman working under the  supervision of the boatswain was lashing a container on the port side of cargo hatch number 2 when he slipped and fell over the rail. The sea was covered with ice and he was almost instantly killed.

2013.01.28 - Fatal Fall Overboard on Ice Covered Water Figure 1

The occurrence took place when containers where being lashed. According to the chief mate and the boatswain, the seaman, together with his workmate, was tasked to secure the loaded containers. The boatswain, supervising their work, had instructed the seaman in question to lash the containers tightly. At the time of the accident his workmate was performing the same task on the starboard side. When the boatswain went to instruct this man, he heard the other seaman cry ‘Boss’. When the boatswain turned his head towards the sound he saw the seaman’s legs disappear over the rail. The sea ice was so thick that the seaman did not break it. The surface of the sea was covered with a 10–15 cm thick layer of broken pack ice.  He lay motionless on the ice following the 8–8.5 m fall.

2013.01.28 - Fatal Fall Overboard on Ice Covered Water Figure 2

Left – The yellow arrow points to the place from where the seaman fell
Right – The site of the fall photographed on the night of the accident

The boatswain immediately reported the occurrence on the ship and a rescue operation was launched at once. A stevedoring company’s signaller who was working on the vessel learned of the incident at 01:35. He reported this to his foreman who was at a nearby building. The foreman immediately left for the ship, listening to the quay’s working channel on his way. From the radio communications he became convinced that a man had fallen overboard. He first called the Emergency Response Centre (112) at 01:39 and then Harbour Security in order to guide the emergency response units to the accident site. Following this, he reported the occurrence to the vessel’s shipbroker.

Rescue operations were put into action on the vessel and on the quay so as to hoist the seaman off the sea ice. A unit from Kotka Police was alerted at 01:53. After they arrived at the scene they conducted a preliminary investigation and took a few photographs.

This accident stresses the importance of safety while working on top of containers. The risk of falling is high and falls almost always cause serious injuries. Darkness, inclement weather, slippery surfaces and inappropriate footwear only heighten the risk. These dangers have been recognised for decades.

Weather conditions on the night of the accident were difficult. The deck was slippery with recently fallen snow. When snow falls on a painted steel deck, moving around and working become extremely dangerous. Slippery footwear only increases the risk of an accident. Furthermore, it was dark and the deck was icy at the time of the occurrence.

Sailors often lash and unlash containers at a safety level which is inferior to that of stevedores. Statutes require the work be completed under uniform safety regulations, regardless
of who carries out the work. In reality, this is a difficult challenge because the port operator cannot impose demands on the workforce of a ship. Time and again, part of the lashing/unlashing operation is carried out at sea as the ship is approaching the port or right after its departure. Some work processes do not require any particular fall protection arrangements. Official monitoring in such cases is both difficult and complex.

Carrying out lashing and unlashing operations in addition to their normal sea duties increases sailors’ daily working hours. This particularly applies to Short Sea Traffic in which port calls happen on an almost daily basis. It is evident that this seaman’s reduced alertness contributed to his fatal accident. He had been working for a long period without adequate rest.

As a result of the accident the ship has, at least, installed a safety rail and painted danger zone markings at the point of the fall. The pictures below show the changes that have been implemented. A safety rail has been installed at the work area and clear danger zone markings have been painted on the area.

2013.01.28 - Fatal Fall Overboard on Ice Covered Water Figure 3

Left – The safety rail and danger zone markings on the starboard side
Right – The erected safety rail on the port side

Source: Finland SIA


  1. BASF! Be alert safety first.

    This particular safety rail and the demarcation “Danger Zone” seems like a memorial for the seaman who died. A sort of maritime equivilant to a candle or a cross or flowers propped against the mile marker of a fatal auto accident. But different. Different because this is not a reminder that one passes by on the road or can be avoided by taking an alternate route. This reminder can not be avoided, it moves with the ship.

    The sailor’s death will not be in vain if it results in the voluntary installation of new safety rails and warnings before there is another accident or the need for another regulation.

    Prevention is just so much better than another regulation. On land, too!

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