Car carrier crew retrieves deck hand who fell overboard from ladder

A crewman aboard a U.S.-flagged car carrier is lucky to be alive after a ladder broke and he fell over the side from the top deck.

The 54-year-old deck hand suffered a possible broken collarbone and broken ribs in the accident aboard Green Lake. The ship's crew rescued the injured man from the water June 28, 2011, in the North Atlantic Ocean east of Bermuda.

The 656-foot Green Lake was en route from Rota, Spain, to Beaumont, Texas, when the accident happened in calm seas, according to incident log statements from the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre, which coordinated a medical evacuation. A Bermuda pilot cutter rendezvoused with the ship and transported the injured U.S. citizen to a hospital, where he recovered.

The deck hand was working on the ship's top deck, possibly painting, when the ladder broke and flung him over a railing, witnesses reported.

"We got a message from the ship (saying) that a crewmember had fallen overboard and had been retrieved," said Craig Copik, a duty officer in the operations center. "We got an update saying that the victim suffered heavy bruising to the ribs and collarbone and the injury would require a stretcher."

The accident happened on the afternoon of June 28. By the next morning, Green Lake was diverting to Bermuda to transfer the patient to a shore-side hospital. At about 1600, the pilot cutter St. George was en route to the sea buoy to meet the car carrier.

The pilot vessel contained a duty pilot, ship's agent and physician, said the pilot, Capt. Chad Townsell of the Bermuda Pilot Service. The Green Lake crew reported that their shipmate was the victim of a freak accident in which he fell into the ocean even though he and the ladder were squarely on deck and not out alongside the ship when the ladder failed.

"He wasn't hanging over the side," Townsell said. "The whole ladder fell over the railing, and he fell toward where the ladder fell, and it sort of ditched him over the side."

A life ring and smoke flare were deployed immediately, the crew reported.

"Luckily, he was working with someone, and they saw what happened, and they sounded the alarm, and the first officer was able to release a smoke float and they did a Williamson turn," Townsell said. "They lowered a lifeboat or a man-overboard boat."

None of the Bermuda officials could confirm the height from which the deck hand fell. The car carrier's depth is 113 feet and its draft is about 33 feet, so a fall from the top deck could have been 50 feet or more.

"From that height, it was like hitting concrete," Townsell said. "I think they're quite fortunate to have found him. It took them a few minutes to find him even after they got back to the smoke float."

Green Lake's owner is Central Gulf Lines Inc. Its operator is LMS Shipmanagement Inc. Both companies are based in Mobile, Ala., and are affiliates of New York-based International Shipholding Corp. Corporate spokesman David Burke in September said the company was not able to confirm the facts or provide further comment immediately.

The injured man was in the water for about 30 minutes before he was rescued. The Bermuda officials were not sure if he was wearing a life vest.

The medevac rendezvous was not routine because Green Lake didn't have charts of the local waters, said Townsell, who assumed control of the car carrier temporarily.

"Bermuda is surrounded by an extensive reef system," Townsell said. "I had to make sure that during the operation we stayed in safe water at all times, because the captain wasn't even on the bridge because he was tending to the patient with the agent."

After the physician assessed the patient's condition, he was moved to the 53-foot St. George.

"It was a little bit safer to walk him down the accommodation ladder, and they handed him over to our boat," Townsell said.

After a two-and-a-half-mile voyage to the Hamilton Harbour docks, an ambulance transported the injured man to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, where he recovered.

Copik said Bermuda authorities do not plan to investigate the accident, which occurred in international waters. The U.S. Coast Guard is probing the casualty out of its Florida-based District 7, said district spokesman Chief Petty Officer Russ Tippets. No information about the investigation was released by September.

The deck hand is a member of the Seafarers International Union. Union spokesman Jordan Biscardo said the SIU would have no comment on the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff