Fishermen death inquiry urges warnings over toxic gases

Oileán an Óir trawler inquiry finds two men inhaled ‘lethal’ levels of hydrogen sulphide

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inquiry into the incident on the Oileán an Óir (italics) on August 24th, 2015 found the two men inhaled “lethal” levels of hydrogen sulphide and “elevated” levels of ammonia. File photograph: Getty Images

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inquiry into the incident on the Oileán an Óir (italics) on August 24th, 2015 found the two men inhaled “lethal” levels of hydrogen sulphide and “elevated” levels of ammonia. File photograph: Getty Images

 

An investigation into the deaths of two fishermen who were overcome by fumes on board a trawler in Killybegs, Co Donegal last year has recommended that fishing crews be warned of the dangers of toxic gas on board vessels.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inquiry into the incident on the Oileán an Óir (italics) on August 24th, 2015 found the two men inhaled “lethal” levels of hydrogen sulphide and “elevated” levels of ammonia.

Joel Alama (46) from the Philippines and James Joyce (27) from the Aran island of Inis Mór had been working on refrigerated sea water (RSW) tanks on board the 23-metre vessel in Killybegs as part of routine maintenance.

Mr Alama raised the alarm after Mr Joyce collapsed and both were rushed to hospital, but did not survive.

The MCIB said both were overcome on entering the port side RSW tank, and said the source of the gas was dormant water in one of the sections.

No equipment

It said neither the vessel nor the crewmen had equipment to monitor the atmospheres within the tanks.

The MCIB notes that the “duties of employers and employees found in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 and S.I. 325/1999 the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Fishing Vessels) Regulations 1999 apply to fishing vessels as a place of work”.

The board’s report says the “hazards associated with the generation of toxic gases from the decaying of organic matter and the consequent hazard ... in confined spaces is well known in the broader marine industry”.

However, understanding and recognising the dangers “does not appear to be as well known” in the fishing industry, the report says.

It recommends the Minister for Transport issues a marine notice warning crews on fishing vessels of the hazards associated with toxic gas generation and retention in RSW systems.

It says a notice should be displayed on vessels fitted with these systems, with details on enclosed space entry techniques.

It also recommends that the Minister should “consider” mechanisms to “address the safety” aspects of design, construction and operation of RSW systems, and the generation of toxic gases.