Sheriff rules death of Croatian man crushed between two sea vessels could have been avoided

Sheriff rules death of Croatian man crushed between two sea vessels could have been avoided

An Aberdeen sheriff has found that the death of a Croatian man who died at sea while attempting to paint a ship could have been avoided had appropriate safety measures been taken.

Pjero Kurida had been employed on an offshore supply ship, the Athina, then owned by ER Offshore GmbH. He died in hospital on 10 June 2012 after being crushed between the Athina and another vessel in the North Sea. He suffered chest and abdominal injuries as a result of the accident which eventually led to his death.

The fatal accident inquiry was conducted by Sheriff Ian Wallace. Mr Kurida’s family did not participate in the proceedings. Representations were made on behalf of the Crown by David Glancy OBE, on behalf of Mr Kurida’s employer by Martin Sinclair, solicitor, and on behalf of the ship’s captain, Artur Wnukowski, by Mark Donaldson, solicitor.

No risk assessment

At the time of his death, Mr Kurida had been employed as a boatswain aboard the Athina. On 7 June 2012, the Athina collided with the harbour wall at Aberdeen Harbour and sustained some minor damage to the rear of its hull. The damage, which was not repaired while the Athina was docked, did not compromise the integrity of the vessel but would have required repair at some point.

In the afternoon of 9 June, the Athina moved to open sea and anchored in tidal waters around 2 nautical miles from the harbour. It was decided by Captain Wnukowski that the crew should start painting the hull of the Athina, including the damaged part. Mr Kurida suggested that this could be done from one of the vessel’s fast rescue craft, which the captain agreed to.

The work began the following morning. After lowering the fast rescue craft into the sea, which at the time had a slight swell, and securing it to the main vessel, the craft rose in the swell relative to the Athina. This caused Mr Kurida to become trapped between the vessels. The captain contacted the mainland and indicated that a crewman required to go to hospital but did not describe it as an emergency.

Mr Kurida was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after being brought ashore by a fishing vessel. He did not arrive at hospital until 12:08 on 10 June, where attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Life was pronounced extinct at 12:59 hours. The cause of death was certified as chest injuries including a laceration of a main pulmonary vein.

It was submitted that the accident was caused by the decision to paint the hull of the Athina at sea using a craft that had not been risk assessed for the purpose and without conducting a comprehensive risk assessment. Had such an assessment been carried out, measures could have been taken that would have resulted in Mr Kurida’s death being avoided. It was further submitted that there had been a failure by the crew to alert the coastguard immediately following the injury, which delayed Mr Kurida’s arrival at hospital.

Not an urgent job

In his determination, Sheriff Wallace observed: “The decision not to paint the hull in the harbour does not appear to have been a planned one. Rather, events moved on before that particular job was able to be carried out. However, that the hull was not painted in that time period would in turn highlight that the damage was superficial and the job was not an urgent one. That is relevant when considering the subsequent decision to attempt to paint over that damage at open sea, when the risks involved were clearly greater.”

He continued: “There was no such risk assessment in place for the operation of painting from a fast rescue craft. As Captain Wnukowski now accepts, this raises the question of whether it is the type of operation that should have been carried out. [The] absence of a formal risk assessment left Captain Wnukowski with two options: to properly risk assess the proposed activity; or to consider not proceeding. A risk assessment should have been carried out in terms of the vessel’s safety management system, as it should have been recognised as ‘an unusual or infrequent’ task.”

Addressing the crew’s failure to call for emergency assistance sooner, the sheriff said: “The delay in getting Mr Kurida to hospital was unnecessary. This is particularly concerning in light of the importance of getting a patient with significant chest injuries to a hospital with a cardiothoracic unit quickly. However, I accept that Mr Kurida’s injuries were not survivable.”

He concluded: “I recommend that all those responsible for the operation of merchant vessels in UK waters have in place the necessary training, guidance, procedures and rules to ensure informed and appropriate responses to medical incidents of uncertain severity. After discussion with parties, I consider that the International Marine Contractors Association and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have an interest in this recommendation.”

In postscript, Sheriff Wallace added: “It was clear that Captain Wnukowski and all those involved with the Athina were deeply affected by Mr Kurida’s death. He was by all accounts a dedicated and respected seaman. I would therefore conclude by expressing my condolences, belated though they are, to Mr Kurida’s family, friends and colleagues. The time that has passed does nothing to diminish the tragedy of his death.”

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