An injury on board to a Second Engineer, where the company did not assist with medical treatment, repatriation, or medical expenses.
What the Reporter told us:
I was sailing as a 2nd Engineer, and whilst the ship was getting ready to leave the anchorage and berth for cargo operations on 05th December at 0700 hours, I fell by accident and fractured my ankle. The Captain tried to send me to the local hospital, but the company rejected the request. I called the company superintendent, and was told, “It is not an argument of right and wrong. How can I get a relief 2nd Engineer to the vessel with such short notice?” Following cargo operations, the ship departed Port “A” South Korea on 05th December, and anchored off Port “B”, China on 06th December for 5 days. My ankle was still fractured though and it has not recovered yet.
I asked them to send me to the hospital, but the company said, “Don’t stir this up into a big thing. We will get you off when we arrive back in South Korea. There is going to be a major inspection. Stop making such a fuss and be quiet!”. We berthed at Port “B” on 12th December, where an inspection was conducted concurrently with the cargo operations. The inspection whilst I was injured is recorded in the log book.
For 10 days, from the day of the accident until we arrived back in South Korea on 14th December, I was not able to get any prescribed medicine, not even pain-relieving tablets. The only thing that the company provided was a pain relief patch. I even passed out due to the pain during this period.
I asked the company whether the Korean Coast Guard could help in getting me off safely when we were about to anchor off Ulsan port, but this was rejected because they said it might increase insurance premiums. Eventually, on the evening of 14th December, I was disembarked by means of the provision net, (which is normally used for loading groceries etc.). At the time, there were strong winds and the sea was quite rough. Moreover, it was very dark and the ship was rolling because she was in ballast condition. As I was lifted by the crane, I sprained my ankle once again. As a seaman, I believe that was beyond the call of duty – it was very dangerous given the situation.
After I got off, I went to the Ulsan customs office, but nobody from our company came to assist, so I took a taxi to the hospital accident and emergency department. At the hospital, my ankle was swollen up so much they could not perform the operation I needed. It took a month to get the operation.
It was an occupational accident, but the company did not pay my salary or any medical expenses, so I reported it to the Korean Maritime and Port Administration. This did not resolve the problem so I presented a petition to a labour supervisor in the Regional Office of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. The company urged me to drop charges against them. They said if I dropped the charges they would pay my salary. I answered, “Pay first, then I will drop the charges”. Finally, they deposited my money the day before the problem was due to be investigated. The Regional Office of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries regard the accident as an occupational injury, and said the company should take full responsibility for the matter since otherwise they would be neglecting their employee’s welfare.
I required a second operation, but the company stated that I could not get any operation without their confirmation. I trusted my doctor but the Company did not, so I suggested other medical centres for third party advice – those doctors stated that a second operation was appropriate. I am still under treatment which has now been going on for 35 months. I have had two operations on my ankle and still have a trapped spinal nerve.
The argument continues with the company. They have made it clear that getting an operation is out of the question. They never took the moral responsibility – I am only someone who got injured due to the nature of my job and it is not their problem.
I hope nobody else will have to go through what I had to go through. The company treats their crew in a very unfair manner even though we are their representatives on board. The first priority should be the safety of the crew – the MLC agreement says so.
CHIRP does not know the name of the company, as it is the MLC principles that the reporter wishes to put before a wider audience. The Maritime Advisory Board commented that this report highlights the fact that commercial considerations have overridden safety and humanitarian concerns, particularly highlighting that:
- Seafarers are advised that in cases like this the ship owner’s medical costs are covered by P&I Club insurance, so money should not be an issue.
- Masters should send injured crewmembers to a shore doctor when in port and do not need company authorisation to do this.
- At sea there are Radio Medical Services which can be utilised.
- With respect to the Safe Manning Certificate, this allows for the vessel to sail short-handed for a limited period so long as Flag State are informed of the extenuating circumstances.
- Finally it was noted that disembarking via a provisions crane that was not rated for personnel transfer was hazardous in the extreme, particularly when alternative means to disembark had been mentioned.