The Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (MACI) has published its investigation into the death of a crewmember from Kibo, which occurred a few years ago. It finds that the primary cause was improper working practices onboard. These included failing to follow the yacht’s documented safety procedures. It’s a cautionary tale for all owners, yacht managers, and crew.
MACI investigates accidents to determine the cause and circumstances, so that future accidents don’t occur. While it doesn’t explore all accidents, it must do so under IMO rules if a loss of life or vessel occurs, or if severe environmental damage results. The organization emphasizes that it “does not apportion blame or liability.” It does, though, sometimes make safety recommendations to relevant parties or organizations. These range from owners and management companies to classification societies and the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry.
The Kibo accident happened while the 243-foot (73.94-meter) megayacht was anchored in Majorca, Spain in May 2015. A 22-year-old deckhand was cleaning the rub rails, using a safety harness and a bosun’s chair secured to a fender hook. Unfortunately, he fell into the water, soon slipping beneath the surface. His fellow crewmembers rescued him, administering first aid and calling an ambulance. He suffered severe hypoxic brain injuries, from oxygen deprivation while underwater. He did improve somewhat in the following weeks, but was immobile. On June 7, he died of bronchial pneumonia, resulting from his immobility. A UK court declared his death accidental. (The deckhand’s family transferred him from a Spanish hospital to a British hospital after 11 days.)
MACI’s investigation reveals a few things. For instance, while different crewmembers were in visual and verbal contact with the deckhand while he worked, no one saw him actually fall. The CCTV cameras aboard Kibo didn’t capture the incident, either. The side of the yacht is outside the motion-detection zone. A crewmember did, though, witness the fender hook detaching from the bulwark about 50 minutes after the deckhand began the tasks. (MACI took the timing from the CCTV footage.) When that crewmember went to the bulwark, the deckhand was already in the water. He began swimming toward the swim platform, while she informed him she’d get another crewmember in the water to help him.
Just 29 seconds passed between her leaving the side of the yacht and the other crewmember climbing into the water. However, the deckhand was no longer visible on the water’s surface. Despite her seeing him below the water and diving in to get him, she was unsuccessful. The crew then lost sight of him. The captain soon donned scuba gear to further assist. He found the deckhand lying face down on the seabed. He brought the deckhand back onboard, and the crew administered oxygen, a defibrillator, and CPR. The elapsed time between him falling into the water and this point was 13 minutes and 23 seconds.
As for conclusions, MACI outlines a few. First, the deckhand was not wearing a PFD. This went against Kibo’s standard-operating procedure, as well as her technical manual. The latter outlines safety and health procedures, among other things. Both require crewmembers to wear an inflatable PFD if working over the boat’s side. Second, even though the deckhand had a safety harness, with a safety line, that safety line was attached to the movable fender hook. According to MACI, Kibo’s technical manual states that crew should use an independently rigged lifeline. This way, it prevents a fall if the other gear fails. Finally, failing to fully follow the standard-operating procedures and technical manual contributed to the seriousness of the accident and injuries.
The direct cause of the fender hook detaching from the bulwark remains unknown. The injuries the deckhand sustained meant he couldn’t assist the investigators. Spanish authorities retrieved and inspected the fender hook after the accident. But, they found no signs of damage or failure. Therefore, the investigators conclude, the deckhand likely lost his footing and fell when repositioning the fender hook. They also surmise that it, along with the weight of the cleaning bucket and other materials, made staying afloat without a PFD too difficult.
Following MACI’s investigation, Y.CO, which manages Kibo, took several actions. These include conducting an internal investigation into its full fleet operations. Y.CO put changes in place pertaining to controls and procedures as a result. Y.CO also conducted onboard inspections across its fleet, to compare standard-operating procedures to actual practices. Here, too, changes and corrections took place.
Furthermore, a work group comprised of representatives from the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry and other Red Ensign members revised safety requirements for working aloft or over the side. Crew now must have a safe means of external access to all parts of the yacht where they must work. The Cayman Islands Shipping Registry strongly cautions, “Safety recommendations shall in no case create a presumption of blame or liability.”
The full report is on the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry website.