The ATSB has found that a lack of communication, hazard awareness and job safety analysis led to a seaman on board the Panamanian registered container ship MSC Sonia being severely burned by steam.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation also found that the placement of the boiler safety valve vent pipe, and the direction in which it exhausted, meant that any personnel on the funnel casing top platform were vulnerable when a boiler safety valve operated.

At about 0900 on 10 April 2007, a surveyor arrived on board MSC Sonia to carry out a scheduled boiler survey while the ship was alongside Swanson Dock, Melbourne.

The ship's chief engineer and the surveyor went to the engine room and, after visually inspecting the outside of the boiler; they tested the safety cut-out devices. The surveyor then asked for the operation of the safety valves to be tested. The turbo-alternator was shut down to reduce the steam demand and the boiler's two burners were fired manually. The steam pressure started to rise and, at about 0945, when the boiler pressure reached 11 bar, the safety valves operated.

The ship's boatswain and the ordinary seaman had spent all morning on the top platform of the funnel casing painting the main engine exhaust pipes. At about 0945, steam unexpectedly exhausted from the nearby boiler safety valve vent pipe, directly onto the ordinary seaman.

The ordinary seaman was severely burned by the steam. He was assisted down the funnel casing ladder and onto the bridge deck. While he lay on the deck, the crew used a hose to shower him with water to cool his burns.

At 1015, an ambulance team arrived on board the ship and, by about 1100, the ordinary seaman had been landed ashore, placed in the waiting ambulance and taken to hospital.

The ATSB is pleased to report safety action already taken and has issued one safety recommendation and two safety advisory notices with the aim of preventing similar incidents.

Media contact: George Nadal 1800 621 372
Last update 01 April 2011