The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released an investigative report on the August 14, 2018 incident on the fishing vessel Sunbeam. On August 14, 2018, a second engineer working on board the vessel was found collapsed inside a refrigerated salt water tank. Unsuccessful attempts were made to resuscitate him. At the time, the ship was in Fraserburgh and the second engineer had entered the tank to sweep away residual water.
The MAIB’s report explained the incident:
This fatal accident happened because the second engineer entered the tank, which was an enclosed space, without any of the safety precautions normally associated with such an activity; there was no ventilation, the atmosphere was not monitored and he was working alone without communications. Entry into Sunbeam’s refrigerated salt water tanks without appropriate safety precautions had been normalised by the crew; however, on this occasion, the atmosphere could not support life because Freon gas had leaked into the tank through corroded tubes in the evaporator of the vessel’s starboard refrigeration plant. Although the Freon gas leak was less foreseeable than other potential hazards in refrigerated salt water tanks, this accident highlights the critical importance of safety precautions and procedures for any enclosed space.
The report found that the fatal hazard went undetected due to the absence of safety precautions normally associated with enclosed spaces, specifically ventilation and atmosphere monitoring. Entry into enclosed spaces on board the vessel, without safety precautions, had been normalised by the crew through many years’ operations, and without previous consequence.
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