The Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Program (CHIRP) Charitable Trust recently highlighted an underestimated security risk: accommodation ladder failure.
In a recent incident reported to CHIRP, a pilot boarded a vessel using a combination rig. After they embarked, and during the recovery of the accommodation ladder, the cable broke loose and the accommodation ladder fell overboard and dragged in the water as the vessel proceeded to port. The master alerted the pilot to what had happened when the pilot reached the bridge.
Later inspection revealed that the bolts securing the wire had failed. A full Port State Control inspection took place the following day following a report of the incident. The accommodation ladder had been inspected by a classification society 18 months earlier.
The master took corrective action regarding the accommodation ladder and the fall arrest device.
The accommodation ladder is often perceived by ship crews as less of a risk because it is a sturdy structure and considered part of the hull structure. Due to these factors, accommodation ladders can be overlooked when servicing ladders, especially items such as hull fittings to which cables are attached. Like the pilot ladder, it is often difficult for a pilot to fully assess the safety standards of accommodation ladder fittings prior to boarding. This incident shows that this is also an area of vulnerability and CHIRP wants to highlight that.
Many vessels, particularly bulk carriers and tankers, have accommodation ladders which are positioned on exposed areas of the main deck where rough seas and spray, combined with cargo residues and dust, can affect fittings and accessories and cause accelerated corrosion. Access is often difficult, hampering inspections and maintenance. Design is an important latent factor in this incident, which could have had extremely serious consequences for the pilot.
The photographs shown below highlight another gangway failure that just occurred at the time of this writing where the gangway cable broke just after the pilot boarded the vessel. .
SOLAS regulation II-1/3-9 states that all cables used to support the means of embarkation and disembarkation must be maintained as specified in SOLAS regulation III/20.4 which states that the drops must be “renewed if necessary in due to the deterioration of the falls”. or at intervals not exceeding 5 years, whichever occurs first”.
Consideration should be given to reducing the periodicity of changing the chutes to between 18 and 30 months for vessels that have accommodation ladders in these exposed areas, as well as changes to the design of the chute securing. However, thorough maintenance should always be provided to cables, sheaves and fixings, no matter how difficult the cables are to access.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) publication “Shipping Industry Guidance on Pilot Transfer Arrangements, Ensuring Compliance with SOLAS” outlines very clearly the rigging safety requirements for pilots, including management responsibilities. on shore and on board, together with details of the rigging of hatch devices for combination ladders described in IMO Resolution A.1045(27).
Some shipping companies use a Permit to Work (PtW) system for pilot boarding operations and CHIRP urges all companies to consider adopting this idea as a best practice: it is not onerous and can easily be added to the SMS. This would give pilots confidence that the ship takes their safety seriously.
“Pilots have the right to refuse boarding on vessels offering faulty boarding arrangements, which can lead to serious delays [and] lead to a full port state control inspection with risk of delay and financial penalties,” ICS notes.
The ICS publication makes a very important point regarding human behavior: “A pilot who has climbed a properly rigged ladder, and assisted by an officer and deck crew, will be in the right frame of mind to pay the utmost attention to the safety of the ship.” In fact, the pilot’s integration into the bridge team begins when he embarks, and not when he arrives on the bridge.
The CHIRP (Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Program) Charitable Trust has provided a fully independent and confidential safety reporting system to seafarers around the world since 2013, complementing the reporting system it has offered to the UK aviation industry since 2003 By publishing our analysis of received incidents and near-miss reports, we raise awareness of safety issues and help improve safety outcomes across all sectors of the marine industry.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.