The death of a crewmember aboard Karina C – as he stepped between the ship’s moving gantry crane and a stack of cargo hold hatch covers – is another tragedy in a worrying series of onboard crush deaths and injuries.
In May 2019, the UK-registered general cargo vessel Karina C arrived in Seville, Spain, to take on a load of cement. As the crew prepared the ship for loading, the second officer – Polish national Maciej Michel Reszkiewicz – made his way to the aft end of the main deck, walking between the hatch covers and the stationary onboard gantry crane.
As he stepped onto the hatch coaming, the vessel’s chief officer – unaware of Reszkiewicz’s movements – drove the crane aft, trapping the second officer against the hatch covers. Hearing screams of pain, the chief officer immediately reversed the crane and Reszkiewicz fell from the coaming onto the walkway below. Shortly afterwards he lost consciousness, and then stopped breathing.
Blood alcohol level was 117mg/100ml – twice the legal limit for seafarers
The crew’s first-aid response was prompt, with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) administered and external emergency services quickly called. With the crew confused about what had actually happened, the attending doctor recorded that Reszkiewicz collapsed and died from a heart attack.
Based on this assumption, the accident was not reported to the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).
The starboard walkway showing a stack of hatch covers and gantry crane (Credit: MAIB)
However, when the Karina C’s master studied CCTV footage from the starboard bridge roof camera, which captured most of the incident, it showed that the crane had made contact with the second officer. Two weeks later, the post-mortem report revealed that the cause of death was haemorrhagic shock – usually caused by massive blood loss due to severe internal injuries, and not normally associated with a heart attack.
The post mortem also noted that Reszkiewicz’s blood alcohol level was 117mg/100ml – twice the legal limit for seafarers. The accident occurred on the morning of his 59th birthday.
The new evidence was gathered by the ship’s manager, Carisbrooke Shipping Ltd, and reported to the MAIB.
Karina C's cargo hold and hatch cover arrangements (Credit: GIBFRAN46 and www.marinetraffic.com/ MAIB)
In October 2019, MAIB inspectors visited the Karina C to reconstruct the circumstances that led up to the accident. The crane positions, with the hatch covers of both forward and aft holds stacked as they were during the accident, were recreated and the following observations made:
- Much of the port walkway was not visible from the crane operator’s position
- The area immediately under the crane was difficult to see from the crane operator’s position
- A person approaching the crane on the starboard walkway became difficult to see once they were within two metres of the crane legs
- The gap between the crane ladder platform and the stacked hatch covers was around 130mm – too small for an average-sized adult to squeeze through safely while the crane was moving
- It was impossible for the second officer to reach the gantry crane emergency stop button from the position in which he became trapped
- The crane’s flashing amber warning light was visible from the walkways but difficult to see in bright sunlight.
The official MAIB accident report has therefore concluded that:
- The second officer was crushed when he tried to walk between the vessel’s gantry crane and a stack of cargo hold hatch covers, unaware that the chief officer was about to drive the crane towards him
- The chief officer didn’t know the second officer was under the crane or what his intentions were
- The safety culture aboard the Karina C was weak and established safe systems of work were not followed
- Risk assessment and procedures put in place for operating the gantry crane could have been clearer – and had the stipulated safety controls been implemented, the accident would have been avoided
- The second officer’s judgment was probably impaired by alcohol.
Catalogue of crush incidents
In recent years the MAIB has investigated several onboard accidents resulting in crush fatalities.
In February 2018, a crewmember aboard the cargo vessel SMN Explorer was fatally crushed when a hatch cover fell on him; in June 2015, a crewmember aboard the cargo vessel Beauforce was fatally crushed by the vessel’s gantry crane; and in October 2013, a crewman aboard the cargo vessel Toucan Arrow was fatally crushed between a hatch cover crane and the vessel’s structure while alongside in the Port of Portland, Victoria, Australia.
Meanwhile, in July 2020, a stevedore on the Gibraltar-registered cargo vessel Cimbris was fatally crushed by the ship’s moving gantry crane, while alongside in Antwerp, Belgium – an accident that is still under investigation.
And in March 2019, a crewman on the Isle of Man-registered cargo vessel, Vectis Progress, suffered broken ribs and was taken to hospital after being crushed by the ship’s moving gantry crane while he was securing lifting cables.
Dennis O’Neill is a journalist and editor specialising in maritime.