CASE 9 - Tug Trauma
As the vessel entered the harbour, the mooring teams closed up and made ready to come alongside starboard side to. About 60m of 23cm (9”) polypropylene rope was taken from its working drum and flaked out in readiness for use as a spring (Figure 1).
The master had anticipated that a tug would need to be secured aft for mooring, and had briefed the aft team accordingly. As the ship was fitted with a powerful bow thruster, the master did not anticipate having to secure a tug forward. Indeed, it was exceptional to secure a tug forward in any port.
By the time the pilot boarded, the vessel had continued into the harbour and was only 4.5 cables from her berth. She had slowed further and had lost steerage. The pilot hurried to the bridge and, with the assistance of one of two tugs in attendance, turned the ship beam-on to the wind in readiness for berthing.
During this manoeuvre, the pilot advised the master that tugs would be secured forward and aft using ship’s lines. The master immediately passed this information to the mooring teams, and the forward spring was quickly re-configured so that it could be used by the tug. From its drum, it was led between the bitts on the starboard side (Figure 2).
As soon as the tow line was secured to the tug’s hook, the tug’s skipper manoeuvred ahead because there was a danger of the tow line (of which between 30m and 50m had paid out very quickly) fouling the tug’s propellers. The tug opened from the vessel’s port bow, until the bight was clear of the water. At about the same time,
while the cargo ship was also being manoeuvred astern and set by the wind, the officer in charge forward ordered an AB to secure the tow line. However, as the AB moved towards the bitts, the tow line suddenly became very tight. It then jumped over the lip at the top of the forward bitt, and struck the AB on the upper front of the body, causing him to be thrown 2m across the deck.
The AB was conscious but had difficulty breathing.
The officer in charge informed the bridge immediately, and requested medical assistance from ashore. The AB was taken to hospital, where he died soon after from internal injuries.
2. Sufficient time for preparation and briefing is beneficial when conducting routine tasks on deck; it is essential when undertaking something out of the ordinary. Ensuring that everyone concerned, regardless of their experience and knowledge, is made aware of what is to be done, how it is to be achieved, what equipment is to be used, and the safety precautions to be taken, is a valuable insurance policy; one which usually yields high dividends.
3. When working with tugs, particularly when securing or releasing, good communication between pilots, masters, mooring teams and tugs is essential. Without it, co-ordinating the actions of the ship and the tug becomes extremely difficult. Everyone needs to be kept in the picture.
4. When using VHF radio, although expressions such as take it very easy might be understood by most people, they are open to interpretation, particularly when english is not the recipient’s first language. Such phrases are, therefore, best avoided whenever possible. Precise instructions might need a little more thought, but they reduce the potential for confusion, and possible embarrassment.
5. When experiencing rough and uncomfortable conditions at sea, the lure of an alongside berth can be difficult for a master to resist. Berthing in extreme conditions, however, can be risky and is seldom easy. It therefore requires careful consideration. Although staying at sea might be unpopular, occasionally it can be the safer option.
MAIB Safety Digest 1/2004