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Final Dutch Report Into Fatalities Due to Wood Rot on Traditional Craft Due Shortly

4th September 2023
The broken mast of Harlingen lying across its foredeck
The broken mast of Harlingen lying across its foredeck

The Dutch Safety Board says its final report into another fatal marine accident involving wood rot on a traditional craft is due to be issued shortly.

The board initiated an investigation last year after a fatal incident on August 31st, 2022, on a historic sailing ship from Harlingen, which claimed the life of a person on the deck when the vessel’s boom broke.

The board's “follow-up investigation” on this incident set out to examine “to what extent lessons can be learned, and what is needed to prevent these types of accidents in the future”.

It said this week that "the inspection phase of the investigation has been completed".

"The comments received from the parties involved on the draft report have been incorporated. The final report will be adopted shortly and is expected to be published in the foreseeable future," the board said.

The Dutch Safety Board has previously investigated two previous cases. A total of four people died in incidents occurring on August 21st, 2016 and on March 20th, 2019, when part of the mast broke off and landed on individuals.

“In both cases, part of the mast broke off because it was affected by wood rot,” the board said.

In the 2016 incident, a wooden mast that broke suddenly on a Dutch historic sailing ship and killed three people on its deck had been rotting for at least four years beforehand, the board found.

As previously reported by Afloat, the wood had rotted to such an extent that the mast “lost almost all its integrity”.

The investigation report recounted how on August 21st, 2016, the captain of the historic sailing ship the Amicitia was just about to turn his ship into the port of Harlingen, after a week’s sailing on the Wadden Sea, when “catastrophe struck”.

A German family of twelve were on board, and three of them were helping to tie up the foresail when the 20-metre-high mast snapped, and the 6.5-metre-long top fell, with a number of parts, onto the foredeck.

The three people on the foredeck did not survive the accident, which the safety board has traced to wood rot. This was caused by water penetrating the mast which could not drain out again and was trapped.

The investigation report says that “ on paper, many parties were involved in keeping the wooden mast safe, but none of these parties realised the severity of the situation”.

“ As a result, there was an uncontrolled safety risk on board the ship in question for a prolonged period, " and the captain and maintenance personnel “lacked expertise”.

The Dutch investigation reports note that it is common knowledge that a wooden mast can rot.

“ Provided this is identified in good time and adequately treated, it will not necessarily influence the structural integrity of the mast in question. It is therefore important that a mast is periodically inspected for potentially vulnerable spots,” it says.

In this case, it says there was “no maintenance plan for the mast in question, and it was not inspected periodically”.

“This meant that changes and vulnerable spots were not identified. Because the captain himself did not have the relevant expertise, he relied on the maintenance personnel he engaged. However, they did not have the necessary specific expertise concerning wooden masts either,” the report says.

Published in Historic Boats Team

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