Ship officers charged after crewman ends up in coma over oxygen deprivation in hold

The captain and chief officer of a foreign bulk carrier have been ordered to pay over $25,000 for providing false information during a Maritime NZ investigation after one of their crewmen ended up in a coma due to lack of oxygen in the ship's hold.

A file image of a courtroom. Source: 1 NEWS

Captain Walter Damian and chief officer Ian Dalingding, of the Isle of Man-flagged bulk carrier Emile Bulker, both pleaded guilty to providing false information to the maritime agency. 

The Wellington District Court ordered them to pay fines of $13,500 and $4,050 respectively. Captain Damian also pleaded guilty to permitting dangerous activity. A reparation payment of $10,000 for emotional harm has been awarded to the victim.

Maritime NZ said in a statement today the investigation found the crewman passed out because of lack of oxygen in the ship’s poorly-ventilated hold. He required medical treatment.

The incident occurred at the Port of Tauranga on September 6, when the crewman was working in a hold containing palm kernel. Palm kernel is known to deplete oxygen in the air.

Fire and Emergency NZ  rescued the unconscious man from the ship’s cargo-hold. He was taken to the Tauranga Hospital and placed in an induced coma. He was discharged from hospital on September 10.

Maritime NZ investigated, and both Damian and Dalingding gave false information claiming that assessment and gas tests of the cargo-hold had been done, and the hold was safe to work in. None of that was true.

Oxygen depletion and gas build up in ships’ holds is an internationally known risk and a major concern for Maritime NZ, the statement said.

International law requires operators to have a safety management system for a ship which sets out safety procedures to ensure that entry into enclosed spaces like cargo holds is properly evaluated for risk and that those risks are effectively managed.

"People's safety is our primary concern," Maritime NZ central region compliance manager Michael-Paul Abbott said.

As well as taking the prosecution, Maritime NZ have shared information about the incident and the ship with other Asia-Pacific countries’ maritime authorities, and reported it to the Isle of Man registry.

"This is part of an international system for monitoring ships that are involved in incidents – we help each other keep shipping safe," Mr Abbott said.