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Diving supervisor, company found guilty over death of diver who was sucked into ship pipe

Diving supervisor, company found guilty over death of diver who was sucked into ship pipe

File photo of shipping tankers in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: An assistant diving supervisor and the company he worked for were found guilty on Monday (Feb 3) of workplace safety breaches over an incident that led to a commercial diver's death.

The diver, 36-year-old Kwok Khee Khoon, died of traumatic asphyxia in June 2014 after being sucked into a pipe while carrying out underwater works on a docked vessel.

Assistant diving supervisor David Ng Wei Li, 36, was found guilty after claiming trial to one charge of performing a negligent act endangering the safety of others under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

The company he worked for, Underwater Contractors, was also convicted of failing to take measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees, under the same Act.

The court heard that the deceased was part of a team of five divers that Ng led to carry out underwater survey works at the MV Frisia Kiel vessel at Singapore's Eastern Anchorage on Jun 4, 2014.

The deceased was tasked with opening and cleaning the gratings of sea chests, portholes meant to suck in seawater to cool the ship's engines and generators.

Ng, who had six to seven years' experience as a commercial diver and five years' experience as an assistant diving supervisor, briefed the team before commencing the works.

He had been told that the port-side sea chest would be shut down, but the starboard sea chest would be kept in reduced flow.

He had been welding anodes inside the starboard sea chest box at about 6pm that evening when he felt a fin slap his head, the court heard.

He turned and saw Mr Kwok "being sucked from the back into the pipe orifice". Ng pulled Mr Kwok's hand, but the suction force was too great, so he exited the sea chest box to get help and get the vessel to shut down the pump.

Several other divers tried to pull Mr Kwok away from the pipe, but failed.

He was rescued after the starboard sea chest pump was shut down, but was motionless and pronounced dead at 7.38pm.

The defence argued that someone from the vessel had increased the suction at the starboard sea chest pumps, but the prosecution said there was no credible basis for this assumption.


The prosecution argued that the accident could have been prevented by ensuring that the sea chest pumps were shut. 

If this could not be done, the diving supervisor should have aborted the operation in the interest of safety. Carrying on was a negligent act that endangered the safety of divers under his charge, said the prosecutors from the Ministry of Manpower.

Ng's company, which conducts ship repairs and marine diving, was found guilty of failing to ensure that adequate safe work procedures were taken for the process used by the divers, and for failing to implement risk control that had been identified in its risk assessment.

Underwater Contractor had been engaged by Sleipner Shipping to carry out the underwater survey for the vessel, which belonged to Hartmann Schiffahrts.

The company said in its defence that there were "third-party risk or interference that was beyond its control", but the prosecutors said "the defence is incredulous and has no bearing on the charge".

MOM prosecutors Delvinder Singh and Shanty Priya said the safest manner of performing the diving works was to completely shut down the pumps in the sea chests that the divers worked in.

"It is also crucial to note at this point that the risk assessment prepared by the accused company ... also stated that the existing risk control, for the hazard of divers getting trapped by suction from the sea chest, was for the captain or a chief engineer to shut down the pumps at the sea chest that were to be inspected," they said.

Both Ng and the company's representatives will return to court in April for sentencing.

The company faces a maximum fine of S$500,000, while Ng faces a maximum two years' jail, a fine of up to S$30,000, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(cy)


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