A couple of years ago, an article in Lloyd’s List caused me to ponder. The article was headlined Viking Islay Master ‘failed in his duty of care.’ I quote directly from the article concerning the actions of some of the crew of the Emergency Response Rescue Vessel (ERRV) Viking Islay that led to their deaths:
“The three men successively entered the vessel’s chain locker before collapsing due to depleted oxygen in the enclosed space. At issue is whether the crew members were made aware that the chain locker was a dangerous place to go, whether they were aware the chain locker had to be adequately vented before entry and why no tests were made of oxygen levels in the locker.
“A toolbox-talk risk identification card system was in place as a safety measure but was regarded on board as merely an administrative function rather than a safety device and often signed after work was complete rather than before.”
The stupid thing of course is that the crew entered the locker merely to fasten the hanging chain to prevent it from knocking on the side of the locker and keeping some of the crew awake — and not for the first time.
The basis of the Crown’s case was that the Master owed a duty of care to the crew to ensure they were not unduly exposed to risk. Of course, the Master does have a duty of care to the crew; as I recall it’s to crew, ship and then cargo. I won’t offer an opinion on the Master’s action or inaction, or his eventual acquittal, but I’m sure he suffered in his own hell.
Undoubtedly, there was a confined space entry protocol in the ship manager’s safety management system that was ignored. Was there a warning about oxidization in the procedure? Was the Master or the first two crewmen aware that oxidization occurs in a chain locker (or with many cargoes)?
The power of ‘duty of care’ to each other
Sadly, I was witness to a similar accident when I was at sea, though I was a supernumerary on the ship at the time. In both incidents, what distresses me the most (besides the Master’s ignorance) was that there were several other people involved who were either ignorant or ignored the procedures and the dangers of entering a compartment that had been closed for some time.
One of the most powerful tools to improve safety on a ship (or anywhere for that matter) is for the crew to have a duty of care towards each other; it’s much more effective than any written procedure. Did anyone else know they were going to go into the chain locker? If so, did it not strike anyone that this was a danger?