Death on board ship at busy port

JODY O'CALLAGHAN AND BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013

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The second death in a month at Lyttelton Port has prompted worker unions to raise concerns about congestion at the quake-damaged port.

A dock worker's death at Lyttelton was a case of a "wrong place, wrong time", Maritime NZ says.

Unions yesterday raised health and safety concerns about the busy port near Christchurch after a man unloading fertiliser in the hold of a bulk carrier ship died when he was struck in the head by a bucket on Saturday.

Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Joe Fleetwood said there were concerns congestion in the port since the February 2011 earthquake could be contributing to health and safety issues.

Contractor Bill Frost, 58, of Coalgate, died on November 26 after being pinned between a logging truck trailer and a forklift on the port's No 2 Wharf.

A Maritime NZ spokesman said there appeared to be no equipment failures in Saturday's death. It was a "wrong place, wrong time sort of thing", he said. Investigations were continuing.

Lyttelton Port of Christchurch chief executive Peter Davie was concerned two fatalities had occurred within a month but said Saturday's incident was in an area outside the port's control.

The port company last week announced it would receive insurance payments totalling nearly $440 million after settling a long-running dispute with insurers over quake-related claims.

All the payouts received would be used for the rebuilding and reinstatement of its facilities and about $66m had already been spent, it said.

Fleetwood said he would be calling a meeting with health and safety delegates, management of all port employers, Maritime NZ and WorkSafe NZ officials following the death of one his members.

The death would hit the close-knit workforce and community hard, he said.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson said health and safety at the port was "a worry". The tonnage of shipments workers were dealing with had increased during the rebuild "but the footprint is entirely unchanged".

"Everyone is reporting they're feeling the pressure and working harder to fit things in. It certainly is a port that is under stress," he said. Some truck drivers could be waiting more than three hours for loads, Butson said.

After going to the port company with its concerns, "there seems to be much greater focus going on health and safety", he said.

"I just don't think that message is necessarily getting out loud and clear."

Davie said there had been "well-known" truck congestion at the port but it had not been the cause of accidents.

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"There is no correlation between the accidents and perceived congestion in those areas. When an accident happens on board a ship, it is nothing to do with what's going on in the wider port, quite frankly.

"One accident of any kind is too many and our aim is to eliminate them." The company would meet with contractors to discuss concerns, and would make any improvements requested following the investigation.

The Maritime NZ spokesman confirmed Saturday's accident involved a man suffering a head injury.

"There doesn't appear to be any safety issues or equipment failures that have lead up to this. It seems to be a wrong place wrong time sort of thing."

"It's a pretty awful thing to have to pass on to people at this time of year," the spokesman said.

"Until we've finished having a chat to a couple of witnesses it's hard at this stage to pin it all together."

The bulk carrier ship, Citrus Venus, had since left Lyttelton and was travelling to Tauranga.

The dead man's name and nationality have not been released.

- The Press

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