Mate presumed dead after falling overboard in St. Lawrence River

Maersk
Courtesy Zeesenboot/Flickr
Maersk Patras, shown in Gdansk, Poland, in 2013 before being reflagged, was en route from Montreal to Europe on May 19 when a crewmember went overboard near Les Escoumins, Quebec. The victim was not wearing a PFD, according to a Canadian Coast Guard spokesman.

The second officer of a Singapore-flagged containership is presumed dead after falling into the St. Lawrence River near Les Escoumins, Quebec.
 
The unidentified victim, a Sri Lankan national, was working on deck aboard the 689-foot Maersk Patras. The crewmember fell into the chilly river at about 0930 on May 19. The ship was approaching the Les Escoumins Pilot Station at the time to board a pilot.
 
Canadian authorities and good Samaritan ships searched for the missing man until dusk on May 19. His remains have not been found.

Maersk said the crewmember was engaged in cargo lashing and unlashing just before the incident. “This operation is normally regarded as a safe activity and approved by the Canadian authorities,” company spokeswoman Katherine Mosquera said.

The victim was not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD), according to Stacy Dufour of the Canadian Coast Guard’s Maritime Search and Rescue Centre. Mosquera said “safety gear is required to do this type of work and this policy is enforced within Maersk.” She did not directly address the victim’s lack of a PFD.

Transport Canada (TC) is still investigating the incident and has not released any details about the cause.
 
“The information gathered will be carefully analyzed and any necessary action will be taken at the appropriate time,” TC spokesman Simon Rivet said in an email. “It is premature to draw conclusions regarding the causes of the accident. If any practices are found to be causative factors, they will be analyzed and addressed.”

The 2,902-TEU Maersk Patras was en route from Europe to Montreal as part of a regular run when the crewmember went over the side. Dufour said another crewmember was working nearby when the second officer went overboard. It is not clear if the other person witnessed the incident or if it was recorded by closed-circuit cameras.
 
The ship was about two nautical miles from Les Escoumins at the time. Weather conditions during the search, which began almost immediately after the deck officer went overboard, were favorable. The swell in the river was less than 3 feet, with 10- to 15-knot winds, Dufour said.
 
“One major factor was the (river) water was only 6 degrees Celsius in that area (about 43 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. “The water is very cold, so if someone gets into the water for any time we can definitely think they would be suffering from hypothermia.”

The Canadian Coast Guard deployed search crews via air and water until 2000. The Laurentian Pilot Authority and other commercial vessels operating nearby also assisted with the effort. “There was good visibility and we definitely saturated the area,” Dufour said.
 
Maersk contacted the victim’s family after the incident and made crisis counseling available to other crew aboard the 21-year-old ship.

“It is a tragic situation for the family and we have offered them our full support,” Soren Toft, chief operating officer of A.P. Moller-Maersk, said in a prepared statement. “My deepest condolences and thoughts go to them.”

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