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Following the release of UK Maib Safety Digest, it is described a near miss accident onboard a ro-ro passenger ferry, during loading vehicles operation.

The incident

A ro-ro passenger ferry was loading vehicles in preparation for departure. A maximum capacity of vehicles was due to be loaded, so the hoistable car decks (known as the mezzanine decks), were planned to be in use.

The mezzanine decks were loaded with cars at the main deck level, then hoisted up to allow loading of other vehicles onto the main deck. The mezzanine decks were certified as ‘man passenger lifts’, which meant that drivers and passengers stayed in their cars whilst the decks were raised or lowered.

Crew members were also permitted on the mezzanine decks when being operated. The procedure for moving the decks involved two crew members: one stationed on the mezzanine deck, and the other operating the control panel at main deck level.

The mezzanine decks had three positions: ‘ramp’, ‘working’ or ‘stowed’. The ramp and working positions were used to load and unload cars on busier voyages. The stowed position fully raised the mezzanine deck against the deckhead; this was available to facilitate loading of high-sided vehicles on the main deck, when the mezzanine decks were not in use.

This incident occurred when the mezzanine deck had been loaded with cars and was being hoisted with one crewman at the controls and another on the mezzanine. As the mezzanine deck approached the raised position, the vehicle ramps at the ends of the mezzanine deck started to move to the horizontal position.

The crewman on the mezzanine deck saw the ramps starting to move and immediately realised that this meant that the ‘stowed’ position must have been selected and there was, therefore, an immediate risk of serious damage or injury to the people and cars if the deck continued upwards beyond the working position.

The crewman on the mezzanine deck shouted to the crewman at the controls to immediately press the stop button. The mezzanine deck stopped, the controls were reset, and then it was correctly located at the working position so the drivers and passengers could transfer to the ferry’s accommodation area.

Lessons learned

  • This was a near miss that highlighted the risk associated with a potential loss of control of heavy hydraulic and mechanical equipment. The crewman operating the controls was newly appointed to the task and, although he had received training, he had no practice or experience. The most likely cause of this near miss was the lack of supervision when the crewman became confused by the layout of the control panel and selected the wrong command. It was fortunate that the crewman on the mezzanine deck realised what had happened and intervened before the mezzanine decks were raised dangerously high.
  • Consideration can be given to protecting control switches where a hazard of this nature could arise. The control panel does not clearly indicate the difference between working and stowed positions. A simple cover over the stowed button might prompt an operator to think about which button to press when operating the deck with cars on it.