The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its investigation report into the deaths of a master and mate of workboat GPS Battler who lost their lives in two separate alcohol-related accidents. The master of the GPS Battler died in August 2014 after a tender was overwhelmed in choppy seas just outside the port of Almeria and the vessel’s mate died less than five months later in a fall from the quayside in the port of Marin.

GPS Battler

In the first incident, the master was 25 per cent over the UK drink drive limit and in the second case the mate was almost four times over the limit. While this is a safety issue for the commercial industry, strong synergies can be found with the superyacht industry, where crewmembers are often exposed to large amounts of alcohol.

The master, Paul Heritage, drowned in August 2014 when returning to GPS Battler in an open tender from another vessel that had been used – without authorisation – to go ashore to stock up with supplies. On the return trip the tender began to take on water and – within 100m from GPS Battler – it began to sink after a wave broke over the bow.

The MAIB reported that the trip had not been properly planned, with the seafarers being unaware of the tender’s limitations and an anchor watch not maintained in accordance with the vessel’s safety management system. The report adds that master’s chances of survival were reduced by his decision not to wear a lifejacket.

In the second incident, mate Mark Stephens died in the early hours of 6 August 2015 when he fell from the quayside in the northern Spanish port of Marin while attempting to board GPS Battler after an evening in a bar ashore.

Investigators said the mate, who had travelled for more than 15 hours from his home in the UK before he started drinking, had consumed two bottles of wine and several beers in the bar. At the time of the accident, he was intoxicated and probably fatigued and the MAIB stated that it was almost certain he had fallen into the water after stumbling or losing his balance.

The MAIB report points out that it can be extremely challenging to develop and implement effective safety management systems in the ‘relatively close knit and less hierarchical’ environment in the work boat sector, which can perhaps be likened to some of the working environments found in the superyacht industry, especially on private yachts.

The MAIB has reported that the vessel operator has introduced a ‘zero tolerance’ drug and alcohol policy following the accidents and the report recommends that the company closely monitors the effectiveness of this.

The full MAIB report on the incident can be found here.

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