Lessons Learnt: Crew injured securing a tow

Bulk carrier in port - cropped

Vessel Type: Bulk carrier

Incident description

After completion of loading and with a pilot on board, the forward and aft deck teams were ordered to commence singling up the mooring ropes. The aft mooring team consisted of the second officer in charge, an AB and fitter. Once the outboard stern lines were let go and hauled in, instructions were given to make a tug fast through the centre lead. The AB passed a heaving line to the tug crew, who secured the end to a messenger line and gave the signal for the ship to commence heaving in the messenger and tow wire. After the slack was pulled in by hand, the messenger was led around two sets of bitts and onto the winch warping drum by the AB. At this time, the second officer was stationed on the starboard aft corner of the poop deck and the fitter was operating the winch controls. With four turns on the warping drum, the crew continued to haul in the messenger under power and just as the eye of the towing wire entered the fairlead, the messenger suddenly parted with one end violently snapping back and striking the AB on the head. The AB sustained a serious eye injury and was immediately transferred ashore to hospital.


The Club is aware of a number of accidents occurring during the making fast or letting go of a tow. In another case, a carpenter was killed after being struck on the neck by a messenger line jumping off a warping drum. In the subject incident, the messenger was not obviously defective to the crew, who are necessarily reliant on the tug maintaining their own equipment in good condition. The messenger may have come under excessive strain due to insufficient slack on the wire combined with additional friction created by the eye passing through the fairlead. However, the crew should have been alert to the possibility of the line becoming taut without warning. The AB was unsupported at the warping drum, where he was tasked with both handling the rope from the drum and coiling down the slack. On a Panamax bulk carrier, expecting three crew members to safely manage an operation of this nature was probably asking too much.

Lessons Learnt

  • All mooring and towing operations should be properly risk assessed and planned to ensure all involved crew are aware of how the operation is to be conducted as well as to the potential hazards and safety precautions
  • Mooring crew must be adequately certified, trained, experienced and of a sufficient number to conduct operations safely
  • The officer in charge must carefully monitor the tension on lines and give warning where there is risk of them becoming taut
  • Avoid using excessive turns of rope on warping drums

Captain David Nichol

Senior Loss Prevention Executive (Greece)