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Felixstowe: Man who plunged 25 metres to his death on board container ship died accidentally, inquest rules

PUBLISHED: 15:40 19 February 2013 | UPDATED: 15:40 19 February 2013

MV Tempano

MV Tempano

Archant

TOUGHER safety measures are today in place at the Port of Felixstowe after a man slipped in icy conditions and plunged 25 metres to his death on board a container ship, an inquest heard.

THE Marine Accident Investigation Branch report concluded:

n There is little doubt, from his injuries and the position in which he was found, that AB Gonzalez died from falling into the cargo hold, most likely at some time between 6.42am and 6.45am

n It is considered that AB Gonzalez fell from a hatch cover adjacent to the opening above hold three

n It is likely that there was ice on parts of the hatch covers above hold three, making their surface slippery underfoot

n Without any witnesses to the accident, it is not possible to establish what AB Gonzalez was doing prior to the fall. Reportedly conscientious in his duties, he could have been engaged in a number of activities to monitor the cargo operation. In these circumstances, it would have been quite possible for him to have slipped on a patch of ice and fallen over the edge of the hatch cover

n It was reported to be common practice for some crew members to walk across holds where the hatch covers were partly open. Tempanos’s safety management system (SMS) did not control this risk sufficiently well

n There was no requirement in the vessel’s SMS for the crew to wear high visibility clothing on deck during cargo operations despite industry guidance to the contrary

n To improve safe working practices, a brief discussion should be held between the ship’s crew and container terminal staff prior to the commencement of cargo operations

n Greater effort is needed, both from container vessel and terminal operators, to incorporate advice from the International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association and other organisations on safe working practices into their routine working procedures

The coroner’s court heard Hutchison Ports, which operates the port, has instructed staff to conduct safety meetings with the crews of container vessels arriving at the quayside, before unloading any cargo.

The inquest into the death of 30-year-old able seaman Jose Gonzalez-Ortega held at Ip-City in Bath Street, Ipswich, yesterday recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The court heard the new measures were introduced following recommendations in a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published in August last year.

The father-of-two sustained multiple injuries after he fell through an open hatch into cargo hold three of the container ship MV Tempanos shortly before 7am on December 17 last year, the court heard.

An investigation concluded it was likely that the Chilean national Mr Gonzalez-Ortega, who was described as conscientious and well-respected, slipped in icy conditions.

The inquest heard the investigation found that it was occasional practice for some crew members on Tempanos to walk across hatch covers above partly open holds contrary to industry safety guidelines.

Citing the MAIB report Dr Gopinath Chandroth, inspector of marine accidents, said: “Although there was clear guidance available regarding safe cargo operations on container ships, it was not always communicated to vessels calling at Felixstowe.

“Tempanos’ safety management system did not contain sufficient guidance or instructions to the crew about the hazards of walking on partially open hatch covers.”

The inquest heard port staff had complained just hours before the accident that a crew member had been spotted walking on the hatch cover of a partly-opened hold directly under a container as it was being lifted on board.

Summing up, assistant deputy Suffolk coroner Dr Daniel Sharpstone said toxicology reports showed no traces of drugs or drink and he said a search of his living quarters revealed no prescription medication or illicit substances.

And investigation by Suffolk police and the Marine and Coastguard Agency found no grounds for a criminal prosecution.

A jury of six men and five women returned a verdict of accidental death after 55 minutes of deliberations.

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