Three Filipino seafarers die from chemical inhalation

Is it a case of negligence or a straight accident?

Investigations are still to be formally conducted into the death of three Filipino seafarers working on the bulk vessel MV Blue Cecil December 8.

A control engineer, an electro-technical engineer, and a fitter died aboard their ship while it was enroute from Portland in the United States to Singapore. 

The ship changed its route when it reached Bolinao in Northwest Luzon. The ship captain Arthur Corpuz made an SOS call to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that three of his crew members had fallen seriously sick and required immediate help. The ship sailed straight to Manila, but the three men had died by then.

Based on reports, the three were seen entering one of the vessel’s cargo holds and were found unconscious by other crew members.

The vessel remained at anchor in Manila. Officers from the PCG met the vessel and after a preliminary review, transported the bodies to shore.

The PCG said the shipping company has already made arrangements for the three individuals.

The MV Cecil, bearing the flag of Marshall Islands, dropped its anchor at the Manila Bay on December 9 at 5 pm. The bodies of the three seafarers were offloaded, and as of this writing, it was said that they died after inhaling fumes from the cargo hold which at the time contained scrap metal.

According to the PCG Command Center, the captain, in his initial SOS call, reported that the three men had lost consciousness and that he had already called for an immediate medical evacuation. This was at 7 pm on December 8.  A few hours later, the company duty doctor declared the men as deceased. 

One of the deceased was Jobert Dapiton, a native of Palawan and a resident of Quezon City. Maritime Fairtrade has reached out to his widow Mary Ann, but she has yet to consent to an interview because she was attending to her husband’s autopsy and funeral arrangements.

According to laws governing the employment of Filipino seafarers when it comes to compensation and benefits in case of death, during the term of his contract, the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the local currency equivalent to the amount of US$50,000 and an additional amount of US$7,000 to each child under the age of 21 but not exceeding four children, at the exchange rate prevailing during the time of payment.

Philippines authorities, specifically the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), are reported to be investigating the circumstances of the seafarers’ deaths.

Exposure to toxic chemicals

According to the Maritime Injury Guide, the most common way in which maritime workers are exposed to toxic chemicals while on the job is through inhalation.  Hydrogen sulfide, asbestos, and benzene are among the usual chemicals used or present aboard ships.

Hydrogen sulfide poisoning can happen in improperly ventilated fishing vessels, and seamen in cramped or enclosed space are at the highest risk of inhaling it. When inhaled, one falls unconscious and if the amount of gas inhaled is excessive, death may happen.

Asbestos inhalation can lead to life-threatening illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. 

Benzene, on the other hand, is a chemical used for vessel maintenance and tank cleaning on crude oil ships. Inhaling it can cause immune system damage, cancer, internal bleeding, and leukemia.

Chemical spill

Seafarers of a ropax fell ill after inhaling chlorine fumes. Photo credit: Cebu Bureau of Fire Protection

Officers from Cebu Bureau of Fire Protection. Photo credit: Cebu Bureau of Fire Protection

The Filipinas Surigao del Norte. Photo credit: Cebu Bureau of Fire Protection

Earlier in October, the crew of a ropax (a vessel with large roll-on, roll-off ro decks and limited passenger facilities) in Cebu fell seriously ill after inhaling chlorine fumes.

Some 20 seafarers, including the ship captain, were rushed to the hospital by emergency services following a spill on a 3,000-gt ship, the Filipinas Surigao del Norte that was built in 1999. The ship is owned by the Cokaliong Shipping Lines.

According to reports from the local coast guard, a sealed container with the liquid chlorine fell while it was being loaded onboard the ship by a forklift. The crew was in the process of filling 20 chlorine tanks, but one of the containers fell and spilled its contents on the deck after it sprung a leak on its valve. Immediately, the seafarers on board began vomiting when they inhaled the fumes. Liquid chlorine is a chemical used for water treatment and other industrial sanitation purposes.  

The local Bureau of Fire Protection rushed to the scene and immediately evacuated the seafarers and the passengers. 

The chemical was bound for Calbayog in Samar. After the ship was decontaminated, the Marine Environmental Protection Unit allowed the inter-island vessel to depart. 

Top Photo credit: iStock/ ZayacSK

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