Fumes from water in refrigeration system killed trawlermen

File photo

A mixture of dormant (stagnant) water and seawater in a fishing trawler’s refrigerated sea water system contributed to the deaths of two crewmen from toxic gases.

A marine investigation report, published yesterday, recommended that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport issue a marine notice, warning crews on fishing vessels of the hazards associated with toxic gas generation and retention in refrigerated sea water (RSW) systems.

The men who died were not named in the report conducted by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. They were Aran Islands-born James Joyce, 27, and a Filipino, Joel Alama, 46.

The 27m Rossaveal, Co Galway-based ship FV Oileán an Óir had been berthed in the Donegal port of Killybegs for routine maintenance when the double tragedy occurred around 1.30pm on August 24, 2015.

The RSW system on the 252-tonne trawler had been out of service since March of 2015 when the pelagic fishing season finished. Two crew members had been assigned to run the system to check it was operational.

Mr Alama raised the alarm with a third crew member after Mr Joyce had been overcome. The Filipino man went into the tank to assist and also became ill. Mr Joyce died later that evening but Mr Alama died on August 28.

Death, according to the marine casualty report, was due to inhalation of toxic gases. A gas monitor had indicated high levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) were present in, and emanating from, the water that had being lying dormant in the circulation line.

The ship had been berthed at the town pier in Killybegs.

Seawater had been pumped through steel pipes into the refrigerated sea water fish storage tanks on the starboard and port sides. However, the toxic gases were contained in the water pumped into the port side.

The crew had realised the water was dirty and decided to suction out both tanks using a vacuum pumping system. Following this, Mr Joyce went into the port side RSW tank and was overcome by toxic gases.

The investigation pointed to safe practices/procedures not being followed in accordance with S.I. 325/1999 Safety Health and Welfare at Work (Fishing Vessel) Regulations, 1999 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005.

An analysis by the investigation body said that toxic gases are formed by the breaking down of organic materials such as fish. “In this instance, the gases hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and ammonia (NH3) formed and were held in solution in water. The source of lethal levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and elevated levels of ammonia (NH3) could be generated either by the seawater from the harbour or dormant water that existed in the RSW system. The results of monitoring and sampling by the various bodies and interested parties indicate that the source was not from the harbour water.”

There were no witnesses to the incident.

The report concluded that the deaths of both crew members were caused by the inhalation of lethal levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) accompanied by elevated levels of ammonia (NH3).

The report recommended the minister considers mechanisms to address the safety in respect of design, construction, and operation of RSW systems and the generation of toxic gases as in this case.


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