Enclosed Spaces: Potential tombs at sea


How about embracing your graves today and learn the secret on how not to be buried there untimely?

One time I asked my students if they are ready to die. What a horrible question isn’t it? Apparently, majority of them nod their heads and said no. I looked then at the faces of those who were seemed “unprepared” and I saw responsible parents, hardworking breadwinners of the family and many potential marine deck & engine officers. “They really should live”; I sarcastically convinced myself.

“Oh, are you guys not insured?” I joked loudly and I couldn’t believe hearing their loud yes. “Though it’s costly, we cannot deny that getting a life insurance from trusted providers is a great help. Let’s come into one conclusion that no one wants to die but we never know when, where and how. Right? But we will not talk about commercial insurances for we have a more important topic to be discussed today and that’s enclosed spaces”; I added.

As I opened my instructor’s course guide and showed them the preliminary slides, I knew from the start that I had a special job to do that beautiful Monday morning and that’s encouraging my students to avail the best and most of all free insurance against any incident/accident or worst, death incurred while working with enclosed spaces at sea.


The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) defines an enclosed space as a space with poor or no natural ventilation, not designed for continuous occupancy, where access is limited and which may contain a dangerous atmosphere. In addition, it may include a deck area that due to its construction and location has poor or limited access and where a dangerous atmosphere may accumulate.

Take a look at your vessel. Do you see or have you been to cargo tanks, double bottom tanks, cargo pumprooms, duct keels, ballast tanks, void spaces, peak tanks, cofferdams, chain lockers, bunker tanks, freshwater tanks, machinery internals and any other spaces that are normally kept closed? If yes, then you probably had been to hell, or least a “purgatory” I guess. The aforementioned areas are just plain examples of enclosed spaces. I hope you’re not claustrophobic and don’t you worry, for we can always turn hell to heaven. How? Just continue reading.

Tragic places

Bosun Ali and OS Rey (not their real names) was told by their superior to clean the no.3 port side ballast tank one Friday morning. Excited of a new adventure and thinking that Bosun was already inside the tank, OS Rey quickly descended on the ladders while singing David Cook’s hit song “Time of my Life” and gradually disappeared. After some minutes, the chief officer arrived on deck carrying a multi-gas detector device. Then a worried Bosun approached him from the back and asked if he happen to see Rey. Surprised, the chiefmate responded that he didn’t see him and he just arrived to test the tank’s atmosphere yet!

Suspecting that something went wrong, Ali started singing a line of a famous song…

“To the best OS who entered the dangerous space… Where are you now?”

(Poor Rey, he didn’t only choose a wrong song but also a wrong time. Agree?)

Always take in mind that enclosed spaces are considered extremely dangerous because of one or the combination of the following:

  • Oxygen deficiency
  • Presence/Accumulation of toxic, flammable gases and Inert gas including nitrogen
  • Oxygen Enrichment.

Not to mention that these places are usually dark and having a lot of obstructions.

Common Mishap

The short wretched musical story above is just one of the many unfortunate events seafarers suffer at sea because of enclosed spaces. It’s very sad to think that every time someone injures himself or losses his precious life, investigators point the following reasons:

  • Non-compliance with procedures
  • Poor supervision
  • Complacency and short-cuts
  • Monitoring equipment not used or faulty
  • Improper emergency response

Which mistake above you often commit? Let’s be honest to ourselves and be more safety conscious than ever. You might have survived the risks the very last time you bypass the rules but not always.

For checklists, entry permits, risk assessment, and best practices on entering and working with enclosed spaces, we have it on our KGJS Improvement and Safety System (KISS), ship specific manuals and other maritime publications such as Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen. You see? You just need to read, understand and apply wisely what you have learned.

Enclosed spaces, or hells, purgatories or tombs as we describe them on our creative minds, are always part of our temporary house at sea. We cannot remove them nor never enter them forever, unless otherwise instructed but we can always do something to minimize or totally remove the risks. Generally, it’s not the ship but its crew which makes sailing safer and enjoyable. If you still don’t realize it, we create our own heaven or hell on earth.

Ensuring compliance

From September to 30 November 2015, Port State Control (PSC) inspectors under the banner of Paris MoU and Tokyo MoU (and potentially other regions) are on the move to lay down the law. Scaling company & crew’s competency with regards to working with enclosed spaces became their focus of scrutiny this year and perhaps, we gained the same experience of dancing on their tune onboard. Ours happened in the port of Aalborg in Denmark last September 9, 2015. Fortunately, our preparations yielded good results. If your ship is yet to be inspected on the other hand, I suggest that you eagerly work hand-in-hand with the rest of the crew to pass the PSC inspection and improve the over-all safety culture onboard and for us who had been over through the hole, let’s continue observing the best practices and share our knowledge to others.

Insured forever

Life is short. Don’t make it even shorter. – says one of my great mentors in life.

Our ignorance is what I see as a very common culprit why many people die untimely or suffer from a miserable life. Unfortunately, it’s inborn and should be managed properly as we grow older. One key to ensure growth is education and that we should never ever stop learning.

I learned by reading a good book that we should not be afraid to die because no one lives forever. By accepting the reality, we can live boldly and spend time worth our while. Moreover, I’m happy to share that at the young age of 19 and when I was only starting to sail, I bought myself a reliable life insurance. Somehow it gives me a guarantee that whenever I’m gone, my beloved ones are financially stable but for me, prevention is still better than the price of my death.

I was able to impart my knowledge about enclosed spaces to my students that day and I feel more than honored to share it also to you this time. Observing the highest form of safety whenever you are or whatever you do is the most affordable life time insurance one could enjoy. You don’t need to pay big, it’s usually free! How’s that?

As our class is about to end, a witty student stood up and dropped a remarkable bomb.

“Don’t die inside enclosed spaces ‘mates for your body will be gone but your ignorance will live forever!”



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