As with any safety incident or, in this particular case, fatality, the superyacht industry tends to focus on the what and why of the incident. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, providing the approach is respectful, very little acknowledgement is given to those crewmembers who must remain on board after being witness to such a tragic and, in most cases, emotionally traumatic incident.
Following the death of a third officer on board Fincantieri's 140m motor yacht Ocean Victory in March 2016, maritime union Nautilus International has been voicing its support of the crew throughout the investigation that is currently underway, such as their physical presence alongside the crew during the process. (One media report has suggested the union is pushing for the owner of the superyacht to charged with manslaughter due to an insistence to sail to land rather than receive an emergency helicopter for treatment, however Nautilus International has responded to us strongly suggesting this is not the case and that “we must not jump to any conclusions”.) What fewer reports have taken note of, however, is the union’s emotional support system in place for the crew in the aftermath of the incident, an absolutely pertinent factor that is so often forgotten as the breaking news headlines fizzle out.
"They were expected to go back to full service almost immediately."
“The emotional and mental impact something like this has on the crew always needs to be considered. Of course there is the impact on the deceased’s family and how it will affect them, but there is also the impact on the crew who have had to deal with an incident they would never have expected to deal with in their life. Unfortunately, it’s often the crew who are left to deal with the situation,” explains Danny McGowan, senior assistant organiser at Nautilus International.
Multiple crew on board Ocean Victory were members of the union when the incident took place (as opposed to the one, which another report suggests), and contacted the union because “they felt the support from the vessel and its senior officers immediately [after the incident] was inadequate”. McGowan explains, “They called us to see what they could do about it and how we could help them come to terms with it, because they were expected to go back to full service almost immediately. It’s understandable from the owner’s point of view, but there’s the human element that if you’ve seen a close team member suffer a traumatic or fatal injury, you can’t just go back to work straight away, it’s impossible.”
The tender arriving on land following the incident. Credit: @yachtharbour (Twitter)
Subsequently, Nautilus International, after dealing with repatriation for those who wanted it, referred them to industry-appropriate councillors, who could understand the details of the incident, which involved a safety failure in the anchor chain locker (the Cayman Islands has released a flyer with more information pertaining to the incident, which can be downloaded here), without the crewmembers having to go into detail for those unfamiliar with the industry, which in turn could cause them additional distress.
While we would hope no other incident with such tragic results would occur, it would be unrealistic to have such an optimistic view of the superyacht industry’s safety culture. What we can hope for, however, is that the next time an incident occurs that would leave its crew emotionally traumatised, more people within the industry, whether this be senior crew on board, yacht managers, or anyone else potentially involved, better understand the impact this could have on those remaining on board.