A SAFE Means of Access (1)

This report should be read in conjunction with A SAFE Means of Access (2) and (3)


CHIRP has received several reports related to means of access – wire failures, falling overboard and design issues are all discussed below.

What the Reporter told us (1)

A vessel was simultaneously engaged in a helicopter operation to disembark a pilot, and a launch service operation to disembark a cargo surveyor via the amidships accommodation ladder. While the boat approached the cargo surveyor, together with the pumpman who went down to assist, stood near the lower platform of the ladder. The vessel was underway at the time and the ladder faced aft. With the prevailing sea and swell, the launch was pitching heavily and decided to manoeuvre astern to approach the ladder. The launch struck the lower platform of the accommodation ladder heavily, breaking the ladder wire. The cargo surveyor and pumpman fell overboard, and were rescued from the water by the launch. They were extremely lucky to avoid any injury.

What went wrong?

  • There was inadequate situational awareness – the vessel was doing two operations simultaneously. In the first operation, a pilot was being disembarked by helicopter and in the second a cargo surveyor was leaving from the accommodation ladder via a launch.
  • The vessel had adjusted course to keep the wind on her bow as per the helicopter’s requirement. As the helicopter had not arrived, it was decided to disembark the surveyor first by launch. However, with the prevailing course of the vessel the launch did not have a good lee from sea and swell, causing excessive pitching, and with her astern manoeuvre she had inadequate control.
  • There was an inadequate on-site risk assessment and inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Both men went down the ladder and stood near the lower platform instead of waiting at the top, despite the unsafe approach of the launch in the prevailing circumstances. A safety harness was not used before going over the side onto the accommodation ladder.
  • The disembarkation procedure was inadequate. Only the accommodation ladder was used for disembarking the surveyor instead of using a combination, i.e. pilot ladder rigged together with the accommodation ladder. The use of just the accommodation ladder posed a hazard for the safe approach of the boat, while the vessel was underway at sea.

CHIRP Comment

Having discussed this report, the Maritime Advisory Board commented that, in addition to what went wrong above, when a ship is conducting simultaneous operations both should be subject to risk assessment. The results of each assessment should be compared, since the results of one may have an impact on the work of the other. In this case, the requirement for the vessel to steer in a certain direction for the helicopter, as per the ICS Guide to Helicopter / Ship Operations 4th Edition, meant that the lee was inadequate to support a safe launch disembarkation. An intervention on safety grounds by any crew member might have prevented the incident, as would the rigging of a combination ladder.

CHIRP also notes that there is a need for personnel to have received basic training in the use and hazards of different types of ladder prior to being faced with such operations. In addition, whilst rigging a ladder should involve a safety harness, the use of a harness at the boarding platform is inappropriate and potentially dangerous. Wearing a lifejacket, however, is a MUST!

There are far too many cases where this type of incident, coupled with a lack of any flotation aid, has had a far more serious outcome. Whilst the MAIB lifejacket review recommends legislation that all fishermen must wear lifejackets, the safety lessons identified in the review can apply to the whole of the maritime sector.

Report Ends

See A SAFE Means of Access(2) and (3) for the other reports