Fall through open hatch cover into cargo hold of container vessel Varmland with loss of 1 life

Location: Bredo Dry Dock, Port of Bremerhaven, Germany.

Completed PE Summary: Varmland

A short summary of the accident and action taken:

Merchant Vessel/Accident Details
Vessel Name Varmland
Manager Komrowski Befrachtungskontor
Ship Owner Tetuan Shipping Co Ltd
Port of Registry London
Flag United Kingdom
Classification Society Germanischer Lloyd
Type Container ship
Built 2003
Construction Steel
Length Overall 133.6m
Gross Tonnage 6434
Date/Time 21/06/2008, 1230 (UTC)
Location of Incident Bredo dry-dock, Bremerhaven, Germany
Incident Type Accident to person
Persons Onboard 14 crew
Injuries/Fatalities 1 fatality
Damage/Pollution None


The container vessel Varmland was undergoing her first 5 yearly survey in dry-dock since her launch in 2003. A fitter was killed when he fell from the edge of an open hatch cover into a cargo hold.

The fitter, who had been employed on short term contract, was carrying our welding and burning operations on the closed hold hatch covers; after completing several tasks he went for his lunch break. During the lunch break the chief officer took advantage of the fitter’s absence to open the after half of the hatch cover he had been working on to allow light into the hold beneath, to facilitate ballast tank cleaning. As part of this process the chief officer moved the fitter’s tools close to the unguarded edge of the adjoining forward hatch cover. When the fitter returned from lunch he found his tools had been moved and continued working on similar tasks close to the edge of the forward hatch cover some ten metres above the, now unprotected, open hold. The fitter requested that the hatch be closed to allow him to continue working safely, but in response was told by the chief officer, from the bottom of the open hold, to move his equipment and go work on the closed hatches further forward. Shortly after this the unsupervised fitter fell from the edge of the hatch cover into the hold, resulting in his instant death.

Action taken

Varmland’s master has implemented a “both hatches open, or both hatches closed” policy to reduce the chance of personnel gaining access to partially open hatch covers.

Varmland’s managers have notified all superintendents and ships in their fleet of the accident and have issued a directive forbidding working on partially opened hatch covers with work only to be permitted on closed hatch covers.

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to the managers of Varmland advising them:

  • that their directive on hatch cover working be included in their Safety Management System and of the need for all such procedures to be applied robustly by all crews;

  • to emphasise to its crews the duty imposed on individuals by the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997, not only with regard to their own personal health and safety, but also for that of others who may be affected by their acts, or omissions.

Published: August 2008

Published 23 January 2015