Coast Guard issues safety alert to mariners in response to electrocution of third engineer

The electrocution death of a third engineer aboard a chemical tanker in the Gulf of Mexico (PM #123) has prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to issue a warning to the industry about the hazards of electrical maintenance work.

Christopher Erickson, 24, was killed Jan. 7 aboard S/R Wilmington during a procedure to test a circuit breaker in the vessel’s electrical workshop. As a result of the fatality, the Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Analysis issued a Marine Safety Alert in April that recommends several steps to prevent electrical shock.

The Coast Guard said multiple crewmembers were involved in the maintenance task aboard the 636-foot tanker, which is owned and operated by SeaRiver Maritime Inc.

Erickson, of Holden, Mass., apparently touched a component while the power was turned on.

“The incident occurred while several engineers were preparing to test a circuit breaker,†the Marine Safety Alert said. “The engineer apparently made contact with the unprotected stripped ends of a conductor plugged into a live 480-volt power supply on an electrical test bench.â€

The Coast Guard said electricity should not have been flowing during the job.

“The corded three-conductor power supply line being used to connect to the breaker, also called a pig tail, should not have been energized until it was connected,†the Coast Guard wrote. “Further, depending on the type of equipment it was being used with, its ends should have had high voltage insulated alligator clips or it should have been wired securely into the electrical component prior to testing.

“Under no circumstances should the ends have been handled with the power turned on.â€

The alert urges vessel owners and operators to train crews in the strict precautions necessary to avoid shock during electrical maintenance and repair. Circuits should be de-energized whenever possible. Engineers should wear protective gear — insulated shoes, dry clothing, hard hat, rubber gloves — and they should be properly supervised.

Procedures for the use of test panels and connectors should be readily available in the vessel’s Safety Management System and operating manuals. Safety procedures for electrical equipment inspection, maintenance and repair should be followed closely.

Test equipment should be properly maintained, and tools used in the repair of live equipment should be insulated. Test benches should be grounded. Flooring around the benches should be insulated and dry.

SeaRiver, a unit of ExxonMobil Corp., welcomed the Coast Guard’s Safety Alert, which was issued April 17.

“It seems to be a very comprehensive alert,†SeaRiver spokesman Ray Botto said in May. “The lessons learned would be of value to anybody.â€

SeaRiver, based in Houston, had already issued new instructions to its crews.

“SeaRiver has identified and has implemented additional enhancements and best practices to prevent a similar event from taking place,†Botto said. “Overall, the measures taken by the company to date are consistent with many of the recommendations subsequently identified by the U.S. Coast Guard in its April Marine Safety Alert.â€

Botto declined to specify what actions SeaRiver has taken.

The Coast Guard and SeaRiver were still investigating the exact details of the S/R Wilmington fatality in June.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff