A boatswain preparing a pilot accommodation ladder on the side of a bulk ship was killed when he fell 30 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard said he was not wearing a life vest.
The fatal casualty, which involved equipment failure, happened March 30 aboard the 738-foot Vitapride. The vessel was off the coast of Louisiana, about 17 miles southeast of the Southwest Pass buoy. The ship, headed to New Orleans, was anticipating a pilot embarkation in the safety fairway area.
Boatswain Episanio Odavar, 39, of the Philippines, fell overboard when a pair of bolts broke on a ladder bracket, the Coast Guard said. Odavar had been preparing the portside accommodation ladder along with two other crewmembers, who witnessed the boatswainâ€™s plunge into the sea at about 1130, the Coast Guard said.
The shipâ€™s managing operator, Vita Management SA, of Piraeus, Greece, reported that company safety practices were not followed during the assignment.
â€œThe bosun was standing on the bottom step of the ladder and was not wearing a life jacket or attached to any safety lines, in violation of vessel policy,â€ a preliminary Coast Guard incident report said.
â€œTwo bolts to a bracket attached to the ladderâ€™s inboard cable sheave (the tension pivot point) broke, causing the bracket to separate, resulting in a sudden loss of tension to the cable,â€ the report said. â€œThe bosun lost his balance and fell approximately 30 feet to the water below.â€
The Malta-flagged ship was traveling at about 14 knots at the time of the boatswainâ€™s fall, the Coast Guard said. Vitaprideâ€™s crew immediately attempted to rescue Odavar.
â€œA life ring was thrown and the master initiated a Williamson turn, going back on a reciprocal course,â€ the Coast Guard report said. After five hours of searching, â€œonly the life ring which was thrown was located.â€
That search included a 40-foot Coast Guard rescue boat, one helicopter, the cutter Sturgeon and good Samaritans. The Coast Guard suspended the operation after 48 hours.
Odavarâ€™s death is the second recent fatality involving a boatswain who plunged into the sea while preparing an accommodation ladder for a pilot embarkation. In August 2007, a 46-year-old boatswain, also from the Philippines, was killed when he lost his footing and fell from the side of the 600-foot tanker Overseas Altamar at the entrance to New York Harbor (PM #110, Dec./Jan. 2008).
The Overseas Altamar boatswain was wearing a life vest, but witnesses said it may have failed to inflate.
Vitapride was carrying a load of coal from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans when the accident happened.
The registered owner of Vitapride is Akropolis Shipping Co. of Greece.
Odavar was last seen wearing red coveralls. His body was never found. The Coast Guardâ€™s investigation was continuing in late May.