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Lowestoft oil worker accidentally crushed to death prompts safety call from Suffolk coroner

PUBLISHED: 17:00 03 June 2019

The medivac boat. PHOTO: Bahamas Maritime Authority

The medivac boat. PHOTO: Bahamas Maritime Authority

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An offshore oil worker from Lowestoft was crushed to death aboard a ship in Malaysia, prompting Suffolk's coroner to call for a review of emergency procedures.

The wheelchair stretcher on board the Platinum Explorer. PHOTO: Bahamas Maritime AuthorityThe wheelchair stretcher on board the Platinum Explorer. PHOTO: Bahamas Maritime Authority

Jeremy Sutch had been working on board the Platinum Explorer on February 25 2016 when he suffered rib fractures and respiratory failure after being hit by machinery.

Suffolk's senior coroner Nigel Parsley has now written a report to prevent future deaths to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and Vantage Drilling Company after a jury inquest concluded Mr Sutch's death was accidental following a three-day inquest in February earlier this year.

The 46-year-old died at Labuan Hospital in Malaysia, around five-and-a-half hours after the incident.

The trainee driller called for help and told members of the crew he had been crushed by the riser feeding machine.

The Riser Feeding Machine (RFM) on the Platinum Explorer. PHOTO: Bahamas Maritime AuthorityThe Riser Feeding Machine (RFM) on the Platinum Explorer. PHOTO: Bahamas Maritime Authority

In the report, Mr Parsley states: "In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken."

During evidence given at the inquest, Mr Parsley heard how the ship's captain referred to the medical guide carried on every vessel, which said Mr Sutch must be evacuated in a sitting position, with a "wheelchair-type extraction chair" used.

Mr Parsley wrote: "In evidence, it was heard there had never been an evacuation drill undertaken on board using an extraction chair. A basket-type stretcher and mannequin were always used.

"Further, the captain said in his 42 years at sea he had never seen a medical evacuation drill or real medical evacuation using a wheelchair-type extraction chair."

Mr Parsley ruled difficulties in transporting Mr Sutch in the chair led to a delay. He said: "Despite his injuries, Jeremy had to lower himself one step at a time into the passenger space before he could be taken ashore to receive medical attention.

"Without his own personal strength and determination, he would not have been able to get inside the medivac boat to be taken ashore."

While it was confirmed at the inquest that, in the opinion of the forensic pathologist, Mr Sutch's injuries were not survivable regardless of the delay, Mr Parsley said: "I am concerned that, should a similar situation arise with a casualty whose injuries may be survivable, their chance of survival would be reduced by the delays caused.

"I am also concerned that other captains on other ships may be unaware of the difficulties posed in the medical evacuation of a casualty when they must be kept in a seated position.

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"I am further concerned by the apparent lack of knowledge of this type of casualty extraction device, which in turn resulted in an apparent lack of training drills designed specifically with this use in mind."

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Weightmans LLP, on behalf of Vantage Drilling Company said: "We wish to reiterate our condolences for Jeremy's family's terrible loss.

"Since this event, Vantage has reflected upon all of the facts of the incident as identified by various investigations in order to learn as much as possible.

"Vantage is always concerned to ensure that its evacuation procedures are fit for purpose, affording those injured the best opportunity to reach expert medical attention in the mosty timely fashion.

"It is not possible to forsee and anticipate every possible scenario. Hindsight provides improved illumination on the situation.

"It is important to recognise that what happened on board the Platinum Explorer was fact specific and highly unusual, being outside the experience of very experienced Mariners.

"Since the event involving Mr Sutch, evacuation using wheelchairs have been included in evacuation drills."

The company confirmed drills are now required to be carried out every six months.

Victim trained crew on how to use machine

The IMO report into Mr Sutch's death states it is not known why he was using the machine at the time of the accident, and there were no witnesses or CCTV.

Mr Sutch had been serving on board the ship since May 2010, while it was still being built in Korea, initially as an assistant driller before being promoted to trainee driller in 2014.

In that time, he had written many of the on board operating procedures for various pieces of equipment, including the RFM, and one of his responsibilities was to train other members of the drill team to use the RFM.

The report states: "He was very saftey conscious and would caution those who work under his supervision.

"No medical drills were undertaken in the months preceding the evacuation and, had a drill taken place, the constraints and limitations of equipment would have been familiar."

Since the incident, the Platinum Explorer has reinforced the 'buddy' system to avoid equipment being operated alone, and ordered the crew to review and conduct emergency drills using all types of stretchers on board.

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