MV Pioneer was unloading at the Sprague Energy Terminal in Newington, N.H., on Aug. 30, when the accident occurred. The 500-foot ship unloads its cargo via an onboard conveyor system that transfers material to a shore-based conveyor. According to Lt. Kailie Benson of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Portsmouth, N.H., the boatswain was in the No. 2 port hold trying to clear a cargo hang-up. At the time, the hold was about 85 percent empty. The gypsum that remained had hardened because of damp conditions, preventing proper operation of the conveyor system.
The boatswain’s task was to drill a hole into the cargo so that a Cardox charge (a CO2 explosive used in mining operations) could be placed and detonated. While he was drilling the charge hole with a pneumatic tool, a wall of gypsum 20 feet wide by 35 feet high collapsed and buried him.
Newington Fire Department responded to the emergency call from the terminal. According to Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Cote, when he arrived on the scene nothing could be seen of the victim except the air supply line to his drill. Cote determined that the cargo was too unstable for rescuers to stand on and called for additional support from the Amesbury/Newbury Trench Rescue Team.
The ship’s conveyor removed most of the gypsum, but extricating the victim continued to present a problem because of his location in the hold. With the crew, the rescuers devised a system to flush out the area around the victim’s body with water. A Stokes litter was lowered, and the body was removed.
A medical examiner determined the cause of death to be suffocation.
Cardox charges are widely used in the industry when bulk materials need to be broken up. Gypsum is a major cargo in Newington.
Benson said that the accident was still under investigation.