Death of Chief Engineer While Boarding Bulk Carrier – Investigation Report

This investigation report refers to the death of a relieving engineer while boarding the Hong Kong registered bulk carrier Apollo. The relieving Chief Engineer (C/E), who just arrived at the ship’s side after a journey of about 14 hours from Sri Lanka, fell into the water when he was climbing the pilot ladder to board the vessel.

2013.12.02 - Death of Chief Engineer While Boarding Bulk Carrier - Investigation Report Figure 1

Accident timeline

24 August 2011, noon – The relieving Chief Engineer (C/E) of the Hong Kong registered bulk carrier Apollo arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport after a 7.5-hour flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Due to visa problem, it took him about 5 hours to clear the Immigration and Customs formalities.

24 August 2011, 1715 hours – The C/E boarded a van, which was arranged by the ship’s Hong Kong agent, for the public pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. When the van left the airport, the C/E requested the driver to convey him first to a pharmacy to buy some medicine. After that he requested the driver to bring him to another pharmacy where he bought some syringe needles. There in the second pharmacy, he took out a syringe, inserted a needle to the syringe and made an injection of a dose of insulin into his body in front of the shopkeeper and the driver. Then he and the driver left the pharmacy for the pier.

2013.12.02 - Death of Chief Engineer While Boarding Bulk Carrier - Investigation Report Figure 2

Photo above: The letter issued to the relieving Chief Engineer in relation to his medical prescriptions.

24 August 2011, 1815 hours – The C/E arrived at the pier at about 1815. After about 15 minutes, the service launch arrived, picked up the C/E and headed for Northwest Lamma Anchorage where Apollo was at anchor.

24 August 2011, 1840 hours – The launch arrived at the starboard side of Apollo where a pilot ladder had been rigged and lowered down at about one metre above the water as a means of access to the ship. When the launch was manoeuvred with its bow pressing against the ship’s side close to the ladder, the launch attendant held the ladder in position against the ship’s side to make it ready for boarding. The C/E then climbed up the ladder to board the vessel and, as usual, the launch backed off from the ship and stood-by in the vicinity. After climbing up about 6 to 7 steps, the C/E stopped and started to retreat. When he had climbed down 2 steps, he started to tremble. He could not hold himself onto the ladder and fell. He fell down from the ladder, at a height of about 5 metres above the water, directly into water. The launch attendant who was standing-by at the bow of the launch saw the C/E fall into water. He immediately snatched a lifebuoy nearby and jumped into the water. When he reached the C/E, he kept the C/E’s face upward above the water by resting the back of the C/E’s head on the lifebuoy. In the water, he did not feel that the C/E had struggled or showed much of the body movement.

24 August 2011, 1905 hours – At the time of the accident, the Master and the Chief Officer (C/O) were at the starboard bridge wing monitoring the C/E boarding the vessel. They both saw the C/E fall from the ladder to the water. The Master immediately ordered the C/O to muster the crew to rescue him. Two crew members, who were on the main deck attending the crew embarkation, saw the C/E fall into water. They climbed down the ladder one after one and jumped into the water to assist the launch attendant in recovering the C/E. After that, two other crew members from the vessel also boarded the service launch to help retrieving the C/E from the water.

24 August 2011, 1915 hours – The C/E was retrieved to the launch by the joint effort of the launch attendant and the ship’s crew. When the C/E was on the launch, immediate first aid treatment was applied to him. Shortly after the C/O and the Second Officer also boarded the launch and the launch immediately left the vessel for Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter. The launch coxswain telephoned the ship’s agent to request for ambulance service at the typhoon shelter. On the way to the typhoon shelter, cardiopulmonary resuscitation was applied to the C/E but the C/E was unconscious and showed no response.

24 August 2011, 2005 hours – The launch arrived at the typhoon shelter and an ambulance was already waiting there. The C/E was immediately transferred to the ambulance for Queen Mary Hospital.

24 August 2011, 2105 hours – The C/E was certified dead in the hospital.

It should be noted that at the time of the accident, the weather was fine. The sky was clear and the visibility was good. The wind was light air and the sea was calm.

Root causes

During the accident investigation the following have been identified as root causes:

  • According to the autopsy report, the C/E’s direct cause of death appears to be drowning, nevertheless the report remarked that severe coronary artery disease was evidenced by previous myocardial infarction. However, whether the C/E drowned as a result of a heart attack or accidentally lost grasp of the rope could not be differentiated by the autopsy findings.
  • Probably due to tiredness and the effect of medical injection, the C/E’s physical condition might have deteriorated, as such he trembled and could not hold himself onto the ladder, fell into water and drowned.
  • The C/E might have under-estimated the physical strength required for him to climb a vertical height of about 9 metres up the ladder to board the vessel. He probably thought that he could manage, and he did not request the Master for alternative boarding arrangement.
  • The C/E had a medical history of diabetes and other chronic illness such as hypertension and kidney problem. He was prescribed to take medication life long, with 11 items of medicines. However, no relevant remarks/restrictions were endorsed in his medical examination report/Medical Fitness Certificate to reflect clearly his health conditions to the ship’s Management Company.

2013.12.02 - Death of Chief Engineer While Boarding Bulk Carrier - Investigation Report Figure 3

Photo above: The relieving Chief Engineer’s “Medical Examination for Seafarers” Report.

2013.12.02 - Death of Chief Engineer While Boarding Bulk Carrier - Investigation Report Figure 4

Photo above: The relieving Chief Engineer’s Medical Fitness Certificate.

Lessons to be learned

  • If a person has a medical condition that may hinder their work onboard a vessel (e.g. boarding the vessel) the managing company should be aware of the medical condition. In similar situation the company and of course the person himself should assess, according to his health and physical condition, whether he is capable of climbing up a vertical height. If in doubt, a alternative arrangement for embarkation should be made.
  • The crew should properly communicate their health condition and prescribed medication, if any, to the examining doctor such that their health condition could be properly assessed and reflected in the medical examination report and/or Medical Fitness Certificate for the management company to consider the appropriate arrangements required to work onboard.

Source: Hong Kong Marine Department


  1. Reblogged this on Safe Seas and commented:
    It could have been me… or you.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: