Keeping pest infestation under control onboard ships

Pests can cause havoc onboard ships.  They spread diseases and pose a risk to seafarers’ health and affect the operation of ships.  Pest control is an important function but seldom given enough credit.  According to Sogol, a pest controller working onboard a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) ship operating in the Java Sea, Indonesia, his profession is often forgotten because people often assumed wrongly that there is no pest on ships.

Sogol, pest controller working onboard a FPSO.

Sogol said it is a myth that because pests are found on land and as ships are travelling the high seas, pests could not find their way there.  Pests find their way onto ships by hitching a ride on luggage, livestock, food supplies, birds and humans.  When they get in, they make their home in enclosed areas such as ducts, ceilings, voids, and vaults.  When ships get infested, their enclosed nature help in the spread of illnesses and diseases.  Common pests include cockroaches, rodents, bed bugs, termites, silverfish, flies and mosquitos.

Sogol is the only pest controller working on the FPSO and is responsible to keep both the 73 crew members and the ship safe from pest infestation.  He said a dangerous pest he encountered is the tomcat, a poisonous flying beetle-like insect.  

Photo credit: iStock/Anjas Rohendi. A type of tomcat.  

Sogol said: “Usually, the tomcat is attached to the outer side wall of the ship and on other exposed part.  There is a tomcat season every now and then and there is usually a large swarm of tomcats.  During this time, I would work hard to kill them before they managed to enter the interior of the ship.

“The flying tomcats are helped by the strong wind which carried them to the FPSO. When bitten by a tomcat, the symptoms are more or less the same as getting herpes. Tomcats will release a venomous toxin and when in contact, it will cause acute skin irritation.  The skin will feel hot and itchy and red rashes and blisters will soon appear.

“It is not easy to replace crew members when we are in the middle of the ocean.  I try my best to prevent tomcats from attacking the crew.  If bitten, wash the wound immediately, apply cold compress and then aloe vera cream.  If possible, seek medical help.”

In Indonesia, pest control on ships is regulated by the Occupational Safety & Health Act 1994 (OSHA), Food Act 1983 & Food Regulation 1985, and Factory and Machinery Act 1967. Getting a pest controller license is not easy and there are a prescribed set of training and requirements he has to fulfil first, Sogol said. His license, Pesticide Applicator License/Assistant Pesticide Applicator License (PAL/APAL), is certified by the Ministry of Health. 

To stay on top of his profession, Sogol has to regularly attend ongoing training programs including the Skills Recognition System (NSRS).  He also has to undergo on-the-job training and be certified by the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

When on duty, Sogol has to strictly follow regulations like the Environmental Protection and Management Regulations (Hazardous Substances), the Hydrogen Cyanide (Fumigation) Act 1953, the 2010 OSH Regulations (Uses and Standards of Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals for Health), and the Environmental Quality Act 1974.

Sogol doing his rounds of inspection.

Top photo credit: iStock/ RHJ.

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