On May 3, 2015, 22-year-old deckhand/assistant engineer Jacob Nicol fell overboard while cleaning the rub rails aboard M/Y Kibo. He suffered hypoxic brain injuries and was left severely disabled. On June 7, 2017, Nicol died of bronchial pneumonia brought on by his immobility after the accident. The Birmingham Coroner’s Court ruled it as an accidental death.
In January 2019, nearly four years after the accident, the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (MACI) released its investigative report into the accident, noting that the investigation’s objective under the Merchant Shipping (Marine Casualty Reporting and Investigation) Regulations is the prevention of future accidents and is not to determine liability or blame.
M/Y Kibo had been in Majorca for about two weeks prior to the accident, and on May 2, 2015, she moved from Es Portixol to Portals Nous where she remained at anchor until after the accident. Under the supervision of the third officer and chief officer, Nicol was to clean the rub rails, starting with the port side.
According to the report, the third officer was in full communication with Nicol from 10:09 a.m. until he was called away to take guests ashore at 10:21 a.m. and then the chief officer checked on him periodically. At 10:50 a.m., Nicol repositioned the fender hook aft by sliding it along the bulwark while standing on the rub rail and was joined by the chief officer near the end of the repositioning. Seven minutes later, the chief officer returned to the worksite and saw the fender hook detaching from the bulwark with Nicol still attached to it by the supporting line.
As soon as the chief officer realized Nicol had fallen in the water, she moved to the bulwark to make sure he was okay. Before she went to get another crewmember to help him in swimming back to the swim platform, she asked twice if he was okay and he nodded both times. Two deckhands entered the water to help but he was no longer on the surface. The third officer had sight of him and dived to reach him but couldn’t, and Nicol was lost to sight below the surface. The alarm had already been raised at this point, and crew began to muster.
The captain entered the water with scuba gear, found Nicol lying face down on the seabed, and brought him to the surface. Once on the surface, he was brought onto the swim platform and handed over to the nurse who was assisted by other crew. The time between him falling and until first aid commenced was 13 minutes and 23 seconds. Nicol was administered oxygen, CPR, and a defibrillator before being transferred to a local hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where he stayed for 11 days before being transferred to a UK hospital. He spent 34 days in ICU at the UK hospital and made progress in his rehabilitation but still needed 24-hour care.
The MACI report states that “the most likely direct cause of the accident was that the Deckhand lost his footing and fell while in the process of repositioning the fender hook.” The direct cause of the fender hook leaving the bulwark can’t be known with certainty as it was not recorded by the CCTV and only Nicol saw the accident. But due to his condition after the accident, he was unable to provide his recollections. The fender hook was reportedly recovered undamaged.
The onboard CCTV cameras record only when activated by motion in a “motion detection zone,” so the accident itself was not recorded as Nicol was over the side and outside the detection zone. There is a 6 minute and 25 second gap in the recording where he was visible over the side and when the chief officer enters the zone after Nicol fell.
Despite being required by Kibo’s Technical Manual, no independent safety line was in use, and Nicol’s only means of support was the bosun’s chair and safety harness attached to the fender hook. So there was nothing to stop his fall or the fender hook from falling. He had most likely been struck on the head by the fender hook, and the report says that his ability to swim back to the yacht would have been “severely hampered by both his disorientation (from being hit on the head) and the tool bucket.”
The bucket and fender hook (5.5kg) would have produced a great amount of drag, making it difficult to remain on the surface without the support of a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. Nicol was not wearing a lifejacket when he fell, which was against procedure. Had the lifebuoy in vicinity of the worksite been deployed as soon as Nicol fell, it’s likely that he would have been able to remain on the surface until he could be recovered.
At the time of the accident, the method of work was not in accordance with Kibo’s Technical Manual, Standard Operating Procedures (no inflatable lifejacket was worn), and the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers for working aloft and outboard (the level of supervision was below recommended). “The failure to follow Section 3.6 of the Technical Manual and Section 28.1 of the Standard Operating Procedures are likely to have contributed to the seriousness of the injuries sustained in the accident,” the report states.
Following the accident, Y.CO conducted an internal investigation, which led to changes in operational controls and procedures across its fleet of managed yachts; they also conducted specific training and revised operating procedures on board Kibo. Y.CO also produced Fleet Circulars to highlight the risks involved in working aloft /over the side and appropriate working methods, along with inspections on their managed yachts to compare procedural requirements to actual working practices. A number of corrective actions were implemented due to the inspections.
To read MACI’s full report, visit: https://www.cishipping.com/kibo-final-report