Marex - Time to rethink safety in enclosed spaces

This is a good article and focuses on dry bulk carriers, but why do these accidents keep happening? Mandatory drills every two months are apparently not improving the situation.

Is it the result of trying to centralize the perceived “brain power” ashore? This quote from the article appeals to me.
[ Szymanski hopes by asking seafarers to have their say, it will help to shift the paradigm of blame from seafarers to those responsible for the environment they perform their duties in. “It is up to us, ship managers, to change the situation and end these deaths.”]

Ownership of the seriousness of these kinds of operations needs to take place at all levels of shipboard operation from the Master down to the ships cat. Some real critical thinking and best practices have to ring out in every crewmembers head every time enclosed space entry is going to be attempted.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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Of all the things I have done in my career, one that I have been most cautious about is confined spaces. There were vessels that I refused to make an entry even just based on the conditions of the ladders. . . .I would rather take the heat over that then be dead. . . and every time I was right.


On my last vessel I was deeply disturbed by the confined space entry stories that the crew were telling, by the willingness of shore managers to ask for this kind of work without any safeguards in place, and by one skipper in particular who didn’t seem to have the spine to stand up to shore managers. Having non-mariners as bosses is one way to test your backbone. Its our right to refuse unsafe work, as they say, but also our duty not to ask others to do it.

Some companies have a blanket ban on confined space entry by ship’s crew for routine inspections and cleaning. Usually because they have suffered accidents in the past.

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Void spaces do not need cleaning and are normally best inspected in dry dock or port by Owner’s S/I. No, the real challenge is to locate an oil leak in a double hull tanker void/ballast space. Hydrocarbon gas is detected in a double hull compartment (void space or for ballast) and soundings are taken. There is oil in the space. What to do? Pump it out? Forbidden. Enter the space. Impossible. Well, people with gas masks and breathing apparatuses can of course slowly descend into the space and clean/ventilate it bit by bit. It can take several months and can maybe be done in service and I don’t know any better alternative. The space must be clean! Don’t ask me to locate a fracture causing a leak in a slippery, dirty, dark double hull VLCC void/ballast space. I have of course inspected 1 000’s of such spaces but I only enter when I myself ensure there is 21% oxygen and 0% hydrocarbon and good lighting. Just keep it simple. Double hull tankers are just a pain in the neck with all their void/ballast spaces. I wonder who invented them.