On Monday 26 May 2014, three men who were working on board the Suntis, a German cargo ship which was berthed at West Dock in Goole, were found unconscious in the main cargo hold of the ship.
The men were rescued from the hold and taken to a nearby hospital but tragically died later that day. The surviving crew members said that one of the deceased men had entered the hold to rescue the other crew members.
The men who died were a 60-year-old German and a 33-year old and a 38-year-old, both from the Philippines.
At the time, Humberside Police said that they could not confirm or deny if carbon monoxide poisoning was to blame, but were working with the Health and Safety Executive and Maritime Agency to establish the cause of death.
What happened on board the Suntis?
So, why did this tragic incident take place? The Suntis was carrying timber at the time.
Timber undergoes oxidation which causes carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to be produced. At the same time, oxygen is sucked out of the air. In a confined space (such as a cargo hold) this can be dangerous.
An analysis of the atmosphere after the accident showed that oxygen readings had plummeted to between 5 and 6% at the bottom of the ladder in the cargo hold . A low level of oxygen as this can cause death in just a few minutes.
Unfortunately, the incident aboard the Suntis is not the first time this has happened. Across Swedish ports, seven people died in the space of two years and there have also been fatalities in Germany.
In June of this year, we looked at a similar case on board a Polish container ship, the Corina, where wood pellets in a confined space caused the death of a seaman.
November 2015 – ‘accidental death’
In November 2015, a jury ruled a verdict of accidental death on the three men, after it was confirmed that they had all died of asphyxia – a lack of oxygen.
We will never know how and why the men entered the cargo hold that day, and it was fortunate that no other lives were lost. All we do know is that cargo must be handled with the utmost of care, not only onboard a ship, but in all confined spaces.