A stevedore had to be taken to hospital after handling cans of fumigant on an Auerbach Bereederung project cargo ship in the UK.

The 12,600-dwt Thorco Angela (built 2007) docked in Liverpool, north-western England, on 10 October, 2021, when dockers subcontracted to Peel Ports started cargo discharge.

The stevedores found open cans containing powder among the cargo and alerted their supervisor.

Cargo work was suspended and the stevedores waited in a mess room on the quay.

In the early hours of the next morning, one of the workers became unwell and was taken to hospital suffering with nausea, loss of balance and nerve damage to his hand. He had an extended absence from work while recuperating.

The ship had loaded 8,000 tonnes of bagged sweet potato product in Rizhao, China, in July.

Port workers and crew members had placed cans and pouches of aluminium phosphide fumigant between the bags of cargo.

After the incident in Liverpool, the crew removed some of the fumigant from the cargo holds.

A specialist contractor subsequently took away 150kg of fumigant from the vessel.

A preliminary report by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that the chemical had been provided by a cargo supplier in China.

Pandemic problem

But the MAIB said it was “likely” that specialist fumigators were not allowed to board the Thorco Angela and deploy the fumigant due to the Covid-19 restrictions in force in Rizhao at that time.

The Thorco Angela’s crew were not trained to deploy or remove the fumigant, and the personal protective equipment they were wearing was inadequate for the task, the report found.

The ship’s officers did not adhere to the company’s safety management system or international guidelines on the use of fumigants.

As a result, the substance was incorrectly deployed and did not fully disperse during the voyage to the UK.

The use of the fumigant was neither documented on board, nor communicated to Peel Ports by the master or ship manager, the MAIB said.

This meant the port did not initiate fumigant-removal protocols before clearing the vessel to start discharging cargo.

“The risk presented by the cans of fumigant was underestimated when they were first found, which delayed the cessation of cargo discharge, and Peel Ports’ emergency response procedure was not strictly followed,” the MAIB said.

The stevedore ingested fumigant either while working cargo or while eating and smoking after leaving the Thorco Angela, the probe discovered.

Peel Ports has been notified of the safety issues and Auerbach has been told of shortfalls in officers’ actions.

The ports company has carried out an internal investigation and committed to adding cargo fumigation status to its vessel cargo work checklist.

Auerbach has yet to advise the MAIB of actions taken in response to the accident.

The company has been contacted for comment.