SINGAPORE: A Singaporean who fell overboard at sea after performing maintenance work on a vessel was found dead on the shoreline of Batam, Indonesia, with an unactivated life vest.
Mr Abd Karim Ali, 58, had likely drowned, in what was a work-related death, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda found on Wednesday (Jul 12).
The coroner urged those in the industry to conduct briefings before workers attempt to transfer between vessels at sea.
He also said employees making such transfers must wear approved life vests and be taught how to use them, and that there should not be contradictory instructions on how to use them.
In Mr Karim’s case, there was a label on his life vest stating it would inflate automatically, even though it was a manual type that needed to be inflated by hand.
The coroner also said that workers at sea making transfers between vessels must maintain three-point contact, with three out of four limbs in contact with whatever vehicle or ladder they are climbing.
Mr Karim was part of a three-man crew tasked to perform maintenance work on a vessel off Eastern Petroleum A Anchorage, a sector of the Singapore port, on May 17, 2022.
The trio were disembarking the ship to take a company boat back to Marina South Pier, when the accident occurred.
Mr Karim, who was the only one of the three men who wore a life vest, hopped or lightly jumped across the gap between the two vessels.
When he landed, his lost his balance and fell backwards into the sea. He was carrying a backpack containing equipment weighing about 9kg.
His crew saw him fall and tried to rescue him, but he was swept away and they lost sight of him after he went under.
Search and rescue operations were futile.
Five days later Mr Karim’s younger brother alerted the Police Coast Guard to an Indonesian news article stating that an unknown decomposed body was found along a shoreline in Batam.
He believed it was his missing brother, and went to the hospital in Batam, where he recognised the clothing on the body as Mr Karim’s.
This was confirmed through fingerprint analysis after the body was taken back to Singapore.
After Mr Karim’s death, the Workplace Safety and Health Council issued an alert, recommending measures to prevent similar accidents.
These include a pre-transfer briefing for workers to be aware of the safe method of transfer, on-site hazards and personal protective equipment to be used.
The council said vessel transfers should not proceed if there are unfavourable weather or sea conditions, extensive vessel movement or if anyone feels unwell or that it is unsafe to proceed.
The council recommended that all belongings, loose items and equipment be packed into bags for separate transfer.
Boarding areas of service boats should not have slip or trip hazards, and should have sufficient handholds while remaining within the line of sight of the boat operator.
The council also proposed that a deckhand be deployed on the service boat and a gangway watch on the vessel, to supervise and assist workers during transfers and to activate emergency response and rescue procedures when required.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore recommended the use of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) type-approved lifejackets, or a lifejacket meeting ISO12402 standards with performance level 100 or higher. Lifejackets should be checked to ensure good condition before use.
Mr Karim’s lifejacket had a performance level of 150.