Accidents are not expected to happen. Nevertheless, they occur.
An accident is an undesired event that results in personal injury, damage or loss.
The majority of accidents involve personal injuries and/or fatalities, although the strong and continuous improvement in the field of accident prevention is resulting in a constant reduction of the number of marine related fatalities.
After investigating several hundred marine accidents, we are concluding that marine accidents involving equipment failure have relatively low influence in the rate of personal injury accidents.
Common accidents resulting in personal injury are caused by a condition not easy to detect by a casual observer. Hence, designers and supervisors should be alert and not to take for granted that a casual observer would recognize a dangerous situation.
The following is a description of an accident investigated by the author of this article, which could have been prevented by a very inexpensive or insignificant addition of hardware.
A passenger cruise ship carrying over 1,500 passengers made a scheduled stop at an island in the Caribbean.
Passengers disembarked using various exits, one of which is a gangway ramp that is carried aboard the vessel and is positioned by the crew between the vessel and a three step extender platform located on the dock, which was carpeted for esthetic appearance.
The ramp is designed and built to engage and to be secured to the coaming of the opening in the side plating of the hull of the vessel. Hence, the gangway ramp will be forced to move with the vessel as the vessel heaves or moves up or down as the tide changes.
Additionally, changes in the list angle of the vessel due to loading of bunkers and/or other cargo and/or wind variation will result in movements of the gangway ramp. Nevertheless, the movements are slow and smooth and are not obvious to a casual observer.
The shore side end of the gangway ramp rests in the three-step extender platform located on the dock.
To allow for the movements of the vessel, the gangway ramp is built with a 4 ½" roller at the shore side end, which allows smooth horizontal displacement of the shore side of the gangway ramp on the carpeted surface of the platform located on the dock.
The gangway ramp related to the accident being discussed did not have any type of run-off plate or other feature to "scoop" any item that could be in the path of the run-off plate and otherwise could become in contact with the roller.
On the day of the accident, a lady passenger disembarked the cruise ship, but attempted to re-board the vessel a few minutes later, while other passengers were disembarking using the gangway ramp. The lady passenger climbed the three steps of the platform and stood on the platform close to the handrail of the ramp, unaware that the ramp moves. The slow and smooth movement of the ramp was masked by the carpet and the 4 ½"roller was not visible because it was covered by the first step of the ramp.
Under these circumstances, the roller of the ramp contacted and applied pressure to the edge of the shoe of the lady passenger and, within a fraction of a second rolled over the shoe of the passenger crushing her foot.
In summary, the existence of an inexpensive run-off plate creating a smooth transition from ramp to platform would have prevented this accident.
Hector Pazos, is a Naval Architect, Marine Engineer and a Registered Mechanical Engineer and has been engaged in Accident Investigation/Reconstruction for more than 40 years. He has been retained as an Expert Witness in over 1,200 Maritime cases, related to both commercial vessels and pleasure crafts, for both defense and plaintiff.
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