The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has criticized the operators of two vessels involved in a fatal crew transfer accident off Brisbane for not ensuring that the crew fully understood the operation before carrying it out. The incident occurred in August 2021 when the bulker Formosabulk Clement was arranging a crew change off Brisbane. The ship had been at sea for longer than the international maximum of 11 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The weather conditions were rough during the crew transfer, and a large wave trapped the departing chief mate between the boat and the ship’s hull, resulting in his death.
The ATSB found that both the Clement and the transfer launch operator failed to communicate a clear plan and ensure mutual understanding. Language barriers and a lack of detailed procedures for communication during transfers were identified as contributing factors. The vessel was detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Administration for deficient boarding arrangements, and crew changes had to be conducted by helicopter. The ITF argued that if quarantine rules had allowed crew change at the intended destination pier, the risk of a pilot-ladder transfer off Queensland would have been avoided.
The tragic accident highlights the risks and challenges faced by seafarers due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for effective communication and clear procedures during crew transfers. The ATSB emphasized the importance of mitigating language and interpretation risks in international shipping. The incident also sparked a debate about the impact of quarantine rules on crew changes and the potential consequences of such restrictions.