Seafarers have been warned about the risks of using mobile phones in working spaces onboard following an investigation into a fatal accident on the stern ramp of a ro-ro ferry.
The third officer of the Isle of Man-registered freight ferry Seatruck Progress was killed when he was hit by a semi-trailer being pushed ashore by a tractor unit in the UK port of Liverpool in May 2019.
A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on the incident notes that the Polish officer was facing down the ramp, talking on his mobile phone when he was hit, and had not been aware of the trailer approaching.
The report says research shows that mobile phone users lose situational awareness – with drivers up to four times more likely to have an accident while using a mobile phone than when not and that 14% of pedestrians walking on a street while using a phone will have collisions with objects or walk across roads without looking beforehand.
MAIB chief inspector Andrew Moll said the incident highlighted the risks of using mobile phones when on duty or in a working environment.
'This accident occurred on the loading ramp of a ro-ro ferry,' he added. 'However, the use of mobile phones in other hazardous workspaces and on the bridge of ships is becoming a serious concern.'
The report calls on the IoM Ship Registry and the Maritime Coastguard Agency to issue guidance on the potential distractions caused by using mobile telephones on working decks and other workspaces on board ships, and to incorporate the guidance into the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers.
The MAIB report also expresses concern at evidence that the frequency of vehicle deck accidents is increasing.
'As both shore workers and ferry crews are involved in these operations, the mitigation of risks to pedestrians requires shore and vessel safety management systems to adopt a common approach to risk control.'
In this case, the investigation found, a pedestrian walkway that was marked on the stern ramp by a yellow painted line was not routinely used by the ferry's crew or terminal staff.
'The walkway was not safe to use during cargo operations because it was not protected by a physical barrier and was frequently encroached upon by moving semi-trailers,' the report adds, 'and separating pedestrian and vehicular movement across the stern ramp through a strategy of "see and be seen", with an onus on pedestrians to keep out of the way,was flawed'.
This was the second work-related death in 15 months to have occurred onboard Seatruck vessels berthed in Liverpool and the MAIB says there were signs of 'divergence in some areas between the way work was prescribed in onboard procedures and the way it was conducted by the vessels' crews' – with a previous investigation showing 'risk-taking and a lack of crew compliance with onboard procedures'.
The report recommends that the company continues to 'strive to improve the safety of its crews' and calls for the UK Chamber of Shipping to highlight to other ferry operators the lessons to be learned from the accident.
Investigations also revealed that the tractor unit driver had been using cannabis and while this was not considered to be a contributory factor, the MAIB warned that recreational cannabis use can impair judgement and performance and noted that random testing had not been carried out by the port operator.