Prevention Circular No. 04-02
Responsibility for Safety of Surveyors
judgment of the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
highlighted the responsibility of Masters for the safety of surveyors boarding
their vessel. The dangers of entering enclosed spaces have previously been
highlighted in Gard News 154 and in the Gard Guidance to Masters,
paragraph 220.127.116.11 (see the Guidance to Masters on the Gard Services website at www.gard.no).
Nevertheless, surveyors can be at risk whilst performing surveys aboard
ship and every effort should be made to prevent their injury or death. This
circular highlights this and particular steps that should be taken by a Master
to protect surveyors. A more detailed
report of this case and associated decision will appear in Gard News 167.
The course of events
carrier entered with an International Group P&I Club (not
Assuranceforeningen Gard) called at the port of Chiwan, China in 1997 to
discharge a cargo of bulk soyabeans.
The shipowners appointed a survey company (the Survey Company) to
check the condition, quality and quantity of the cargo and the seals of the
holds, for the purpose of protecting them against possible claims by the cargo
owners for damage or short delivery.
The Survey Company was based in Hong Kong and one of their marine
surveyors (the Surveyor) attended on board during afternoon following the
vessels arrival. The Master offered
him the assistance of the vessel's Chief Officer to carry out his inspection
but the Surveyor advised that this was not necessary and that he only needed
the help of an Assistant Bosun. The
Master therefore delegated the duty AB to accompany the Surveyor.
hatch covers of the No 1 hold were opened and the Surveyor was observed taking
photographs of the cargo inside the hold from the deck. The hatch covers of the No 1 hold were then
closed. The hatch covers of the Nos 2
and 3 holds were opened and the Surveyor was observed taking photographs of the
cargo inside these holds from the deck.
Following this inspection the hatch covers of these holds were left
open. The duty AB then advised the
Master by portable radio that he and the Surveyor would be taking samples from
the forward holds. There were no
witnesses to what transpired thereafter.
pm that afternoon there was a change of watch with the Chief Officer and a
different AB taking over. Some 20
minutes later the Chief Officer advised the Master that the relieving AB had
not been able to locate the duty AB when taking over the watch. The Master ordered the crew to search for
the Surveyor and the duty AB. Shortly
thereafter the Surveyor and the duty AB were observed lying at the foot of the
ladder leading to the access hatch of the No 1 hold. Both of them had died as a result of oxygen depletion.
The judgment on this case
the accident, the administrators of the estate of the Surveyor instituted
proceedings in the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
against the Survey Company, as the employers of the Surveyor, for breach of the
contract of employment and negligence and against the shipowners and bareboat
charterers of the vessel ('the Shipowners') for breach of statutory duty under
the Occupiers' Liability Ordinance and negligence. The Shipowners before trial settled the claim of the
administrators and the judgment was concerned only with the apportionment of
liability between the Survey Company as employers, the Surveyor (contributory
negligence) and the Shipowners.
there was no direct evidence of this, the assumption was that the Surveyor had
requested the duty AB to go down into No 1 hold first in order to obtain
samples and that, after the duty AB had collapsed due to oxygen depletion, the
Surveyor had followed the duty AB into the hold and suffered a similar
fate. It is unlikely that the Surveyor
was the first one to enter the hold as, if he had done so and had collapsed,
the duty AB, who was in possession of a portable radio, would most probably
have reported the incident to the bridge.
evidence was that the Surveyor had 14 years experience at sea followed by 6
years working as a marine surveyor for the Survey Company. He held a number of Certificates of Competency,
including a Certificate of Competency as Chief Officer and a transitional
Certificate of Competency as Master.
The latter document was issued by Panama and most of the other documents
were issued by Liberia. No evidence was
produced of the examinations sat and passed by the Surveyor to obtain these
Certificates of Competency. The
evidence of the Survey Company was that the Surveyor had carried out numerous
surveys on their behalf based on which they were satisfied as to his
court found that it was not sufficient merely for the Survey Company to rely on
the Certificates of Competency produced by the Surveyor as evidence of
training. They should have done more to
ensure that he was kept up to date with information about dangers on board
ship, was fully aware of such dangers and knew how to deal with them.
the Surveyor himself, the court found that he must have been aware of the
dangers of entering enclosed spaces, particularly when dealing with cargoes
such as soyabeans that cause oxygen depletion, and he was therefore to some
extent the author of his own misfortune.
Notwithstanding these findings against both the Survey Company and the
Surveyor, the court apportioned their degree of blame for the accident at only
30 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.
harsher criterion was applied to the conduct of the Master who was found to be
50 per cent to blame. The court started
from the premise that the Master is in overall charge of the vessel and
responsible for the safety of all persons on board, including lawful
visitors. The relevant safety codes
provided for a planned entry into any enclosed space with a competent officer
or other person appointed specifically for that operation. There was no such operation planned in this case.
The fact that the Master had offered the services of the Chief Officer whose
presence might have avoided the accident, and that the Surveyor rejected this
offer, did not detract from the overriding responsibility of the Master.
important finding of the court was on the question of whether the Master was
entitled to assume that the Surveyor was qualified and competent to carry out
the tasks expected of him and to follow safety procedures, in particular those
relating to entry into enclosed spaces.
The court held that the Master was not in possession of sufficient
information to make a decision about the ability of the Surveyor to deal with
any dangerous situation that might arise.
The Master could make no assumptions in this respect.
confirms the general trend of courts everywhere to impose more responsibility
on the Master. Shipowners and Masters
should be guided accordingly.
clearly impractical for the Master to check the qualifications and training of every
surveyor who comes on board his vessel and satisfy himself that the surveyor is
competent to carry out the tasks expected and follow safety procedures. The Master should make no assumptions about
the qualifications and training of a surveyor no matter how experienced a
surveyor may appear or claim to be. In
some cases he may not even hold the qualification claimed. Therefore:
- whenever possible, the
Master should insist on surveyors being accompanied at all times by a deck
or engine room officer, depending on the type of survey.
- before commencement of the
survey, the scope of the survey and a plan to deal with any potentially
dangerous situations, such as entering enclosed spaces, should be agreed
with the surveyor and the appropriate safety equipment provided.
shipowners have no control over the choice of surveyors appointed by
charterers, cargo interests and other third parties to attend on board their
vessel, the same is not true of surveyors appointed by the P&I Club, the
hull & machinery insurers or their correspondents. Therefore, it is recommended that:
- before selecting a survey
company to perform work on behalf of Members or insureds, correspondents
should ascertain from that survey company not only the qualifications and
experience of their staff but also what ongoing in-service safety training
- the safety culture of a
survey company should be one of the criteria applied by correspondents in
deciding which survey company to appoint.
It is not sufficient merely that surveyors have in the past
undergone training as such matters need constant reminders. It should be requested of the
correspondent to ascertain this information from survey companies.