Large fine for Portsmouth barge operator after gas incident

Safety Forward Enforcement Support

A barge operator has been ordered to pay almost £111,000 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to a breach of maritime legislation after a gas incident.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard that, on 6 July 2011, crew on the Portsmouth-based Serco barge smelled the distinctive odour of hydrogen sulphide.

A crewman used a gas detector which produced a reading of 57 parts per million (ppm) – well above the prescribed danger limits of five ppm. Crew contacted the operations manager after using the gas detector, but the barge was not stopped as it was decided the monitor was malfunctioning.

Crew had felt unwell and a decision was made to stop the operation and evacuate the barge. Two crew were taken to hospital for treatment.

The barge was part of the Serco contract with the Ministry of Defence, was used to collect waste products from naval vessels moored in Portsmouth.

An investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) showed a number of health and safety failings by the operator.

These included unsafe practice by leaving the tank lids open, and safety equipment, such as the gas monitor, not being properly maintained or calibrated. The crew was also not properly trained in how to use the safety equipment, the investigation concluded.

On 23 September 2014 Serco was fined £50,000, with £60,716 in costs.

Julie Carlton, seafarer safety and health manager at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “This was a very serious yet avoidable incident.

A properly functioning safety management system would have identified the need to maintain and calibrate the gas monitor correctly, ensuring it was in good working order. Then perhaps the crew and their supervisor would have trusted its reading, and recognised the need to stop the operation as soon as the hazard was identified.”