Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Crewman Died Whilst Transferring from Vessel to Head for Home

Restrictive Covid 19 Health Order Blamed for Accident
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – WORLDWIDE – A fatal accident this week off the Australian coast serves to illustrate there are aspects of maritime life that are always dangerous, and highlights the need for consistent safe policies when crew changes are undertaken at sea.

The Covid pandemic has seen untold difficulties for seafarers and shipping companies alike with regard to the exchange of staff on board merchant vessels, and now the death of a man after reportedly falling from a ladder being used to transfer seafarers between the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier Formosabulk Cement and a small vessel approximately five nautical miles off Mooloolaba is under official scrutiny.

The vessel has been detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to allow an investigation into the death, and amongst interested parties is the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) which said the lack of a nationally-consistent policy on international seafarer crew changes, along with restrictive state-based health orders, appeared to be the reason the high-risk offshore transfer was undertaken rather than occurring in port. ITF Australia coordinator Ian Bray commented:

“Currently, Queensland is one of the only states in Australia facilitating crew changes on international vessels, which in many cases have seafarers that have been effectively trapped on board for more than a year due to the Covid crisis. The Formosabulk Cement was reportedly sailing to a New South Wales port where a crew change could have safely occurred at the berth, but because of that state’s restrictive health orders it appears the vessel operator instead decided to replace the crew while sailing down the Queensland coast.

“After spending the last year at sea, this seafarer was looking forward to finally returning home to his family, but instead they have received the tragic news that he died during the crew change. Our deepest sympathies are with his family, friends, and fellow crew members. It is essential that the Australian Government learn from this completely preventable death and take the urgent steps needed to address the crew change crisis that caused it.

“Australia is failing to live up to its legal obligations as a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention, which outlines the nation’s responsibility to the health and welfare of the seafarers that keep the nation’s supply chains moving. State and Federal Government’s are complicit in any fatalities that occur because crew changes are being undertaken in an unsafe manner due to their prescribed health orders.

“The Australian Government needs to urgently address this issue, working with State and Territory Governments to put in place a nationally-consistent, best-practice crew change policy that allows the safe transfer of crew members while vessels are in port. The current situation is seeing risky off-shore transfers take place, while some vessels are diverting to Queensland ports because it is the only Australian state with a comprehensive approach to crew changes.”

Photo: Crew changes at sea can be safely expedited if proper protocols are in place and conditions suitable. Image courtesy of Sea Sub Systems.