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On 18 November 2001, a ballast tank of the Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier Nego Kim exploded killing eight crew members.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation has found that the explosion occurred when volatile paint fumes inside the inadequately ventilated tank were ignited.

The ATSB released the results of its investigation today.

The report states:

  • The explosion occurred at 4.40pm on Sunday 18 November 2001, when the ship was anchored inside Dampier port limits waiting to load a cargo of scrap metal.
  • Prior to the explosion, eight crew members had spent two hours spray painting inside a topside ballast tank.
  • The explosion occurred when volatile paint fumes inside the inadequately ventilated tank were ignited, probably by the electric lead light the men were using.
  • Three of the crew were killed when the tank ruptured. Four other members of the crew were blown over the side of the ship. The search and rescue operation mounted by local authorities recovered one body 23 hours later.
  • The eighth crew member, who was probably working inside the tank, survived the explosion but died of his injuries in Royal Perth Hospital 16 days later.

The ATSB identified that the crew were not provided with adequate instructions or equipment for the painting work and were unaware of the dangers associated with the task.

The investigation also found that Dampier Port Authority's emergency response plan was deficient as it did not reflect the changed role of the authority in an emergency, following the closure of the port communications tower some months earlier.

As a result of the investigation, the ATSB has issued three recommendations:

  • International Safety Management (ISM) manuals should include clear instructions for all operations in enclosed spaces, including the hazards of any operation and instructions regarding the wearing of appropriate clothing and protective equipment.
  • ISM manuals should provide guidance on the conditions under which work in enclosed spaces should be undertaken.
  • The Port of Dampier draft Emergency Response Plan should be reviewed to remove ambiguities and to ensure a consistent and appropriate approach to emergency situations within the port, including clear communications.

The repor Marine Safety Investigation Report 174, is available from the website.

Media contact: 1800 020 616
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Last update 01 April 2011