Chief officer dies in fall during classification survey

The chief officer aboard the bulk freighter Alice Oldendorff died of head injuries after slipping off a ladder in his vessel’s forward peak tank during a classification survey on March 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.

The 50-year-old man, who had 30 years of maritime experience but had worked aboard the vessel for only one month, was accompanying a class surveyor during a routine inspection.

“Typically, people from the crew do not go into those spaces during classification inspections,” said Lt. Kevin Ivey, senior investigating officer at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Jacksonville, Fla. “The inspectors usually do not spend a long time in those spaces, and if they see problems, they’ll come right out.”

According to Ivey, the surveyor entered the smaller-than-manhole-size hatch and started down the 12-foot ladder into the tank. Without the surveyor’s knowledge, the chief officer started down the ladder well, slipped and struck his head on the ‘tween deck, causing major trauma. The ‘tween deck aboard Oldendorff is about four to five feet below the hatch, he said.

Forward peak tanks are usually damp and slick from years of mud and moisture buildup, but Oldendorff’s wasn’t, probably because the vessel is relatively new. It was built in 2000, according to Ivey, who was at the scene following the officer’s death.

“It wasn’t so slick, but it may have been a contributing factor,” he said. “Had he not hit his head, he probably would have survived.”

The death was ruled accidental by local law enforcement and rescue personnel, Ivey said.

Ivey described the officer as a “robust” individual who was not familiar with the forward peak tank, which has a hatch designed for nimble individuals.

To avoid similar mishaps, Ivey suggested that crewmembers not go into unfamiliar spaces and to wait for surveyors to ask for assistance if needed.

“From our investigation, we think this officer thought it was fitting to accompany the surveyor. Other than the captain, he’s pretty much in charge of the vessel. He would want to know about areas that needed work. He was being professional and wanted to be able to address concerns. But there was no need to go into that area. He was a big guy.”

Built in Shanghai, China, Alice Oldendorff is a 48,015-dwt, 633-foot-long, Liberian-flagged bulk freighter that is owned by German-based Oldendorff Carriers. At the time of the incident, the vessel was docked behind the USG plant, where it was to unload a shipment of gypsum.

By Professional Mariner Staff