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Supervisor jailed, employer fined over death of diver sucked into ship porthole underwater

SINGAPORE — The employer of a commercial diver who was sucked into a porthole on the underside of a container ship in 2014 was fined on Tuesday (Aug 11), while the firm’s assistant diving supervisor was sentenced to jail.

Supervisor jailed, employer fined over death of diver sucked into ship porthole underwater

Commercial diver Kwok Khee Khoon died in 2014 after he was sucked into a porthole on the underside of a container ship docked near Marina South Pier.

  • Kwok Khee Khoon died in 2014 while doing underwater survey works
  • His employer, Underwater Contractors, has been fined S$300,000
  • Its assistant diving supervisor, David Ng Wei Li, was sentenced to 12 weeks’ jail 

 

SINGAPORE — The employer of a commercial diver who was sucked into a porthole on the underside of a container ship in 2014 was fined on Tuesday (Aug 11), while the firm’s assistant diving supervisor was sentenced to jail. 

Kwok Khee Khoon’s employer, Underwater Contractors, was fined S$300,000 after it was convicted of failing to provide adequate safety measures under the Workplace Safety and Health Act. 

Its assistant diving supervisor, David Ng Wei Li, was jailed 12 weeks after being found guilty of a negligent act endangering the safety of others under the same Act.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Senthilkumaran Sabapathy and Derek Lee, as well as the Ministry of Manpower’s prosecutor Delvinder Singh, sought the S$300,000 fine imposed on Underwater Contractors.

In justifying the fine, they wrote that Kwok’s death was “entirely preventable and unnecessary”, and resulted from the firm’s “lackadaisical attitude to safety” as evidenced by a series of safety breaches.

For example, an expert had testified that a dive plan prepared by the company was not sufficient to qualify as one, as many required factors were missing. 

These factors include details about how the task was to be done, the equipment needed, responsibilities of individuals, emergency procedures, details of risk management and pre-dive checks.

“Put simply, the accused company prioritised commercial expediency over the safety of its divers, thereby putting the divers at risk of serious injury and death,” the prosecutors said.

They also noted that this was Underwater Contractors’ second conviction under the Workplace Safety and Health Act involving similar safety breaches.

THE CASE

On June 4, 2014, Kwok, 36, was carrying out underwater survey works with other divers under a vessel called MV Frisia Kiel when he was sucked into a sea chest.

A sea chest, also known as a porthole, is a part of the ship’s hull that directs seawater into a ship to cool the engine or for sanitation, among other purposes. 

Any appliance or system that runs on electricity will not work if the sea chest is turned off.

That day, the sea chest pumps were in reduced flow and not turned off, even though Underwater Contractors said in its risk assessment that a captain or chief engineer should shut them down, given the danger of divers being sucked in.

During the trial in February, Ng testified that as they were underwater, he turned and saw Kwok being sucked into the pipe orifice. 

After several failed attempts to pull him away, Kwok was eventually removed and taken on board a workboat after the pumps were shut down.

Kwok was later pronounced dead by paramedics at about 7.30pm, with the cause of death being traumatic asphyxia or suffocation.

Before the dive, Ng led a briefing with Kwok and four other divers, instructing them to perform underwater survey works under MV Frisia Kiel, which was anchored at the Eastern Working Anchorage near Marina South Pier. 

Then, he had told the divers to approach the sea chest box with caution, even though he was aware that the sea chest pumps on the starboard — the right side of the ship — were in reduced flow and it was possible for the divers to be sucked in.

Ng had argued that someone on the ship had increased the pump’s suction without notice, causing Kwok to be sucked in. The prosecution, however, said there was “no credible basis” for this claim.

Ng also testified that it was common to do underwater survey works when sea chest pumps were in reduced flow, although he admitted that it was his first time doing so.

The prosecution argued that there was no dispute that the safest manner of performing the works that day was to completely shut down the pipes in the sea chest that the divers worked in.

Underwater Contractors had also allowed an “obvious and known risk”. A company representative had testified that it did ask the vessel to shut down the starboard sea chest pumps, but the vessel’s crew said that they could not do so.

Underwater Contractors could have been fined up to S$500,000. Ng could have been jailed up to two years or fined up to S$30,000, or received both penalties. 

Related topics

court crime shipping diver death

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