The Good, the Bad, and the Not Too Smart Page 4

The Good, the Bad, and the Not Too Smart

Part 4: Losing More than Sleep

Elizabeth Ginns Britten — February 2004


Illustration: Brian Raszka
 More of this Feature

• Good Fortune
• Where There’s Lint, There’s Fire
• Leap for Life
• Losing More than Sleep
• Adrift for 12 Hours

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During the spring of 2001, the U.S.Coast Guard issued a detaining order for the 804-foot bulk carrier Thomas Selmer for violating SOLAS safety regulations. It came after Coast Guard inspectors held a routine examination and found that the crew had not been performing weekly fire and boat drills. Afterward, when the crew finally did conduct the drills, officials said they were not being performed satisfactorily. The captain was so careless, in fact, that an 18-year-old man who was on his first voyage and had been a crew member for nearly a month had not participated in a single drill.

The day after the detainment was issued, on May 5, the same rookie crew member was trying to free a line that was caught on the davit and slipped while climbing the rungs on a davit arm. Trying to find a place to put his feet to steady himself and regain control, he accidentally inserted his left foot into a hole through which the rollers are lubricated. At the same time, other crew members involved in the drill were raising the lifeboat. The rollers in the davit arm, which move on a track, gruesomely sliced off his toes.

As if the toes incident weren’t bad enough, a resulting Coast Guard investigation revealed that the incident was preceded by carelessness. The agency concluded that “on average, the crew had received only three hours’ rest in the previous 24-hour period,” so it issued yet another detainment. (Safety regulations set by STCW require that crews get at least ten hours of rest in any 24-hour period.)

Some investigators believed that while fatigue was probably a contributing factor to the accident, it was not the sole cause. Bill Hamilton, a marine safety instructor who investigated the incident, attributes the fatigue to the problems the crew was having operating the hydraulic system that opens and closes the hatch covers. “They were beating their heads against the wall to get the hatch covers open. They stayed up ungodly hours to get the hatch system operating,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton and others involved in the case contend that with any accident, there is more than one root cause to consider.

Next page > Part 5: Adrift for 12 Hours > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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