Investigators have revealed the daring rescue attempt staged by crewmates on a Fraserburgh trawler as they worked to save a colleague from a deadly gas leak.
Staff aboard the MV Sunbeam used the vessel’s crane hook and a fishing box as a makeshift stretcher as they tried to save the life of engineer William Ironside.
The 52-year-old could not be resuscitated, and an industry watchdog has now recommended new regulations are created in the wake of his death.
A probe was launched by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) following the tragic events on August 14, 2018. It released its final determination this morning.
Crewmates’ rescue effort
It said the Sunbeam had not long returned to port from landing herring off Orkney, and after finishing lunch, Mr Ironside began cleaning a refrigerated salt water tank.
Later, one of his colleagues called on him for help and, getting no response, tried to find him but noticed Mr Ironside was “nowhere to be seen”.
After searching the engine control room and workshop, the man returned to the upper deck and, as he looked down inside the tank, saw Mr Ironside lying face down by a pool of water.
Joined by another, the crewmate rushed down and began CPR.
Meanwhile, a deckhand attached a fish box to the vessel’s crane hook and began lowering it to use as a stretcher.
The MAIB report said: “As the fish box was being lowered it became snagged, so another deckhand went down the ladder to free it and then guide it to the tank bottom.
“When on the ladder, the deckhand started to feel light-headed and his throat tightened.
“He also saw that the other engineer had collapsed, and the deckhand who was in the tank was behaving strangely.”
The two deck mates then donned breathing apparatus and ventured into the tank, using a loop of rope and the crane to bring the others to safety.
Mr Ironside was pronounced dead at the scene, while four others were taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) for treatment.
What caused the incident?
The MAIB found Mr Ironside’s death could be attributed to a leak of Freon gas which escaped through some corroded pipes.
While odourless and colourless, it is heavier than oxygen and displaced the breathable air in the enclosed tank being cleaned.
An “immediate fatal hazard” can occur if the environment someone is in has less than 11% oxygen. In the area Mr Ironside was found, there was less than 6%.
The watchdog said a number of safety measures were not being properly followed on board the Sunbeam, which could have prevented the fatal incident.
“There was no ventilation, the atmosphere was not monitored and he was working alone without communications,” it said.
The report added some sheets in the vessel’s safety folder were blank, and that it did not contain records for enclosed space training or atmosphere monitoring equipment.
It said: “Although the Freon gas leak was less foreseeable than other potential hazards in refrigerated salt water tanks, this accident highlights the critical importance of safety precautions and procedures for any enclosed space.”
The MAIB has distributed new safety guidance to the fishing industry and has recommended merchant shipping regulations are updated to ensure compliance with enclosed space safety rules.
Last night a spokesman for Sunbeam Fishing, the vessel’s owner, said: “We have fully co-operated with the MAIB and are committed to implementing the report’s recommendations.
“We hope the wider issues raised in the report will lead to improved safety for all those working at sea, and prevent any similar accident from happening.”