Safety warning about working in enclosed spaces

Fatal enclosed space accident on board the fishing vessel Sunbeam (FR487) Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Safety warning about working in enclosed spaces

Safety warning about working in enclosed spaces after the loss of 1 life on a fishing vessel

Urgent bulletin issued after working in a refrigerated salt water tank resulted in a fatal accident on board fv Sunbeam (FR487) at Fraserburgh, Scotland & Safety Warning about working in enclosed spaces.

Date of occurrence: 14 August 2018
Vessel type: Merchant vessel 100 gross tons or over, Merchant vessel under 100 gross tons, Fishing vessel, Recreational craft – sail, Recreational craft – power
Report type: Safety bulletin 4/2018
MAIB safety bulletin 4-2018: Sunbeam. A full report will be published when the investigation is complete.


Safety Warning about working in enclosed spaces:  Yet another enclosed space related fatality. Will the safety warnings ever get through to all seafarers and other professionals who require to enter such areas? LMSC strongly and fully support the “stop work” approach. Our thoughts are with the family of the crew member lost.

Larsens Marine Surveyors and Consultants


Sunbeam (Figure 1) was a 56m UK registered pelagic trawler. Its home port was Fraserburgh, Scotland, and it was typically manned by a crew of eleven. In the weeks prior to the accident, it had been fishing for herring in the North Sea and landing its catch in Lerwick, Shetland. The vessel had nine refrigerated salt water (RSW) tanks for storing its catch. On 10 August 2018, Sunbeam arrived at Fraserburgh. It had caught and landed its seasonal quota of herring and was being prepared for a planned refit period. During the refit the vessel’s owner intended to replace Sunbeam’s refrigeration plant.

Initial Findings

At about 0900 on 14 August, Sunbeam’s crew arrived at the vessel’s berth ready to begin work. The vessel’s refrigeration plant had been shut down after landing the final catch at Lerwick, and its RSW tanks had been pumped out and tank lids opened in preparation for deep cleaning. At some time between 1200 and 1350, Sunbeam’s second engineer entered the aft centre RSW tank (Figure 2) and collapsed.

At about 1350, the second engineer was seen lying unconscious at the aft end of the tank by a crewmate, who immediately raised the alarm. Three of the vessel’s crew entered the tank and tried to resuscitate the second engineer but they soon became dizzy, confused and short of breath. One of the crew managed to climb out of the tank unaided, the other two crewmen and the second engineer were recovered onto the open deck by two crewmen wearing breathing apparatus. The two crewmen made a full recovery, but the second engineer could not be resuscitated and died.
It is unclear when and why the second engineer entered the tank. However, evidence indicated that his intention was to sweep the residual seawater that had settled at the aft end of the tank forward in to the tank’s bilge well. No safety procedures for entering or working in RSW tanks had been completed before he entered the tank.

Figure 2: FV Sunbeam Aft centre RSW tank. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Figure 2: Aft centre RSW tank [Image from MAIB Safety Bulletin SB4/2018, Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.]

Tests of the atmosphere in the tank following the accident showed that the level of oxygen at the bottom was less than 6% (normal level should be 20.9%). Further tests of both the tank atmosphere and residual water samples showed the presence of Freon R22, the refrigerant gas used in the RSW tank’s refrigeration plant.

The MAIB’s initial investigation identified that the refrigeration plant sea water evaporators had suffered several tube failures resulting in a number of repairs (Figure 3). It is likely that the refrigerant leaked through one or more failed tubes into the seawater system, and was released into the RSW tank. Freon R22 is four times heavier than air so it will displace oxygen at the bottom of an enclosed space, such as an RSW tank. It is a toxic, tasteless and mostly odourless gas. If it is deeply inhaled, it can cut off vital oxygen to blood cells and lungs.

Safety issues

working in enclosed spaces is potentially hazardous, procedures for entering and working in them should be robust, understood and utilised enclosed space rescue plans need to be in place on all vessels, risks must be understood and rescue plans practised all crew members have a responsibility for their own safety, this is particularly important in respect of lone working


Sunbeam’s owners are recommended (S2018/129) to conduct risk assessments specifically for entering and working in RSW tanks and provide safe operating procedures for its crew to follow and appropriate levels of safety equipment to use.

Published by MAIB on 19th October 2018  Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Link here to MAIB site

Link here to safety notice





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