Report No 105

Date:  06-Dec-96 
Released:  09-Mar-97 
Location:  DARWIN 


On 5 December 1996, the sail training ship Concordia, registered in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, was on passage from Brisbane to Darwin in the Northern Territory. On deck, routine maintenance was being conducted by some of the students.

Shortly before 1145 on 5 December, one of the students, using a rotary grinder, was removing rust from the door of the battery locker, which was situated at deck level, in the after housing, below the wheelhouse. He paused and called over the Bosunís Mate who looked at the work before turning away and walking towards the forward housing. At that instance, the Bosunís Mate recalled being ďmovedĒ over a metre, putting her hands over her ears and hearing a noise. Another student, working on the port side about 5 metres from the bridge front, saw a dark shape, which he took to be a body, being thrown over the port rail.

The Master, who was on watch and fixing the shipís position at the time, and most of the crew heard an explosion and went to the deck. Within a very few seconds life buoys were thrown overboard, one with a smoke marker. The Master could see the student in the water close to the smoke buoy, but as he watched the student disappeared from view.

Within 3 minutes, a rescue boat was launched and was making for the smoke buoy and Concordia was turned about. No trace of the student could be found, except for a pair of shoes on the deck and some evidence of blood on the deck, on the shipís rail and near the shipís side.

The maritime rescue authorities were alerted and Concordia, assisted by a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft, searched the area that afternoon, into the evening until 1915. The following morning the search resumed at sunrise and Concordia was later joined by a single fixed wing aircraft. The search for the student was abandoned at about 1230, and after a short service Concordia resumed passage for Darwin.


These conclusions identify the different factors contributing to the incident and should not be read as apportioning liability or blame to any particular individual or organisation. The following factors are considered to have contributed to the loss overboard and death of the student from Concordia:

  1. A spark from the grinder being used by the student ignited the hydrogen air mixture causing an explosion within the battery locker.
  2. The student took the full force of the blast, which threw him through the vesselís port side rail and thence overboard, resulting in his death.
  3. The ventilation of the battery locker was totally inadequate and no objective assessment of the ventilation requirements had been made, after the original batteries were replaced. However, the changed battery arrangement was in place in the survey of July 1995 and the inadequate ventilation should have been apparent to the survey authority.
  4. There was no safety sign warning of the hazard of explosion due to the build-up of hydrogen gas.
  5. There was a lack of perception of the potential dangers presented by the enclosed battery locker and by the accumulation of hydrogen gas.
  6. The application of the Classification Society Rules for the Construction of Yachts, to a battery installation of this size and charging capacity, was inappropriate.
  7. The Owners, Master and Officers seem to have placed too great a reliance on the Society to act as a de facto company superintendent in matters of ship safety standards, indicating a seemingly common misunderstanding of the role of classification societies.