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Deckhand entangled in rope and pulled overboard

Date of incident: June 2014
Notice of incident number: 2014157490598
Employer: Owner of fishing vessel

Incident summary
A deckhand was setting prawn traps out the stern from the main deck of a fishing vessel. The deckhand's arm became entangled in the ground line (rope), and he was pulled overboard into the water. No one witnessed the incident. When other crew members on board heard the deckhand yell, they found him in the water behind the vessel. As the vessel was being manoeuvred into position for the crew members to retrieve him, the deckhand went under the water. The deckhand was brought back onto the main deck of the vessel, but efforts to resuscitate him were not successful.

Investigation conclusions

  • Deckhand pulled overboard by tangled ground line: The ground line developed a loop, tangle, or snarl as it uncoiled while the deckhand was setting the prawn traps. The deckhand's arm was caught in the gear, and he was subsequently pulled overboard. Once the deckhand was brought back aboard the vessel, he could not be revived.

Underlying factors

  • Personal flotation device not available: A personal flotation device was not available on the vessel for the deckhand to use. As a result, he became submerged under the water when the vessel turned to attempt rescue. (Although keyhole-style lifejackets were available for abandoning ship, they are not designed to be worn while working on a fishing vessel.)
  • Deckhand not equipped with a knife: The setting station was not equipped with a knife as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. If a knife had been readily available to the deckhand, he might have been able to cut the ground line and self-rescue.
  • Lack of risk assessment for the work activity: The master did not conduct a risk assessment for the work activity of setting prawn traps. The deckhand was exposed to the hazard of becoming entangled in the gear and going overboard. There were no control measures in place to reduce the risk.

Other safety issue

  • Altered weight of vessel: The vessel had a stability assessment in 2012, but since then the employer had obtained an additional spot prawn licence. With the added licence, the vessel's weight would increase --- specifically, the weight of the ground line, concrete anchors, bait, and an additional crew member. The original stability assessment report stipulates that the use of larger, heavier, or additional gear would merit an additional stability assessment to show that the vessel still meets the stability requirements for a vessel of that size and purpose. The potential consequence of altering the weight beyond what was tested in the stability assessment could be as grave as the vessel capsizing. However, this was not considered a factor in this incident.

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Publication Date: Jun 2014 Asset type: Incident Investigation Report Summary NI number: 2014157490598