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Lady Ami. (Source: WIjnne Barends)
Lady Ami. (Source: WIjnne Barends)

Man missing after falling overboard - Learning point from an accident in the Baltic

Status : Closed

On 1 February 2019, a deckhand of the Dutch registered cargo vessel Lady Ami fell overboard in unknown circumstances, shortly after departing the port of Liepaja in Latvia. The deckhand had been issued the task of sweeping out the cargo hold and subsequently fell overboard, for reasons as yet unclear.

During the search and rescue (SAR) operation that followed, the Lady Ami was assisted by the pilot boat from the port of Liepaja and a number of workboats operating in the area. The Liepaja vessel traffic service and Riga Rescue Radio were also informed. Despite this assistance, the deckhand was not recovered. As darkness fell, the SAR operation was halted and the Lady Ami returned to Liepaja. Given the fact that the water temperature was 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, it may be assumed that the deckhand drowned. The deckhand has been missing ever since.

Management measures proved insufficient

On board the Lady Ami, the risk of a fall overboard and its consequences were managed in several ways. Firstly, during bad weather conditions, crew members were forbidden from going on deck, except in extreme emergency conditions, and then always in pairs. This measure reduced the risk of falling overboard. The use of a life jacket was compulsory in such situations, so that in the event of a fall overboard, the chance of survival was increased. Secondly, there were procedures in place for a man overboard (MOB) situation, and the crew was aware of those procedures. The purpose of these fixed procedures was to ensure that a rescue operation could be carried out rapidly and successfully.

Nonetheless, on 1 February 2019, these management measures proved insufficient. The victim was not wearing a life jacket when he fell overboard, because the weather conditions were good and as a result the use of a life jacket was not compulsory. Without a life jacket, the chances of survival in cold water declined rapidly. Following the fall overboard, the MOB procedures were not followed completely, probably as a result of the sudden stress which occurred and because this scenario had not been trained and a sailing MOB drill was not routine. After the victim fell into the sea, the MOB button was not pressed and his location was not pointed out, as a result of which the position of the deckhand was not recorded, which hindered the SAR operation of the Lady Ami, the pilot boat and the workboats. Following the correct MOB procedures could have resulted in a less fatal outcome.

The cause of the deckhand falling overboard from the Lady Ami and his subsequent missing cannot be determined with any certainty. The victim possibly fell from the ladder on the hatch cover crane, when the ladder broke free. Because the ladder on the hatch cover crane was not equipped with fall protection such as a guiderail or a cage, there was no barrier to prevent a fall overboard of the deckhand. Despite the peculiar position in which the ladder was found, it has not been proven the victim has stood on the ladder.

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