An experienced Marine Surveyor was in the process of inspecting the cargo in one of the holds of a bulk carrier.
He was climbing out of the hold using a vertical ladder, which terminated in an access hatch of approximately 25" x 25". As his head reached the hatch opening at the top of the vertical ladder, he grabbed the hatch cover that was leaning in an almost vertical configuration, resting against a vertical transversal bulkhead that forms the boundary of the hold. His intention was to pull himself up to assist the passage of his body thru the hatch opening, by holding onto the hatch cover.
The hatch cover was not secured and suddenly hinged against the Marine Surveyor, pushing him down and causing him to fall. He died as a result of the fall.
The hatch related to this accident is an access hatch used frequently during loading � unloading and cleaning operations of the hold.
The hold of this vessel had four hatches, three of which had holdback hooks.
As such, these types of access hatches are normally fitted with counterbalance weights, latches, and/or various types of holdback hooks or locking dogs, to prevent the hatch cover from closing accidentally and injuring the crew.
Because the hold-back hook, latch or other securing device is normally welded to a suitable structure available in the proximity of the hatch in its open position, in most cases hold-back hooks are designed and fabricated to be used in a specific location.
Also, for locations where it is not practical to weld a hold-back hook or install a dog in the surrounding structure, hatch covers can be fitted with one or two side braces or struts that hang freely when the hatch cover is in closed position, and engage the coaming when the hatch cover is in open position, preventing the hatch cover from closing.
Of course, there are many ways that hatch openings, hatch covers, vertical ladders and surrounding areas can be improved from the point of view of safety, such as providing hand grabs, but, as a minimum, a hold back hook or latch should be part of the hatch system.
The primary cause of the accident was the lack of a device to secure the hatch in open position, such as hold down hooks, latches, locking dogs, counter balance weights or side struts. The vessels� officers and/or management should have recognized this deficiency in the vessel construction and temporary securing devices should have been implemented, such as securing the open hatch with ropes or chains.
The master should have instructed the officers and crew regarding the need to secure any hatch that needed to be left open, if no automatic hold down devices is provided.
This accident could have been prevented by an inexpensive hold down device such as a hook.
Hector V. Pazos is a Naval Architect, Marine Engineer and a Registered Mechanical Engineer and has been engaged in Accident Investigation/Reconstruction for more than 35 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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