TWO crewmen died after ignoring safety warnings to rush to the aid of a stricken crewmate in the hold of their ship and were then suffocated themselves, an inquest heard.
Ferrer Punongbayan, 33 and Jonathan Sanosa, 38, both from the Phillipines and Gerd Jescheniak, 61, the mate and safety officer of the MV Suntis, would have collapsed “within seconds” because oxygen levels had been severely depleted by the freshly-sawn timber cargo and later died. It is still a mystery why the first of the crew, one of two Filipinos, went down into the forecastle storeroom before it had been properly vented.
It is thought his colleague collapsed, trying to help his fallen comrade, as did Mr Jescheniak, even though it was “universal knowledge” among seafarers that ships holds were “notoriously oxygen deficient” after voyages and should not be entered.
An inquest jury in Hull heard how a fourth crewman William Bosito narrowly avoided his shipmates’ fate, when he was stopped from going down the ladder by stevedore Lance Pulford, who had come to help.
The hearing was told that freshly-cut timber still “breathed”, reducing levels of oxygen and also producing carbon dioxide.
Tests later showed that outside the hatch there was 20.9 per cent of oxygen in the air, 10 per cent half way down the ladder and just five to six per cent at the foot of the ladder.
At the latter range fainting was “almost immediate resulting in death or brain damage.”
Mr Bosito told how he and Mr Jescheniak, from Stralsund, Germany, went looking for their colleagues after getting up early in the morning of last May 26 discharge their cargo at Goole Docks, after arriving from Riga, Latvia.
Mr Bosito described how Mr Jescheniak sat down next to the hatch, shouting: “What are you doing?” before scrambling down the 8ft ladder himself.
In a statement he said: “When I looked I could see Jonathan and Ferrer laid on their backs on the floor. They would be 2ft to 3ft from the bottom, close to each other.
“Shipmate was grabbing hold of Ferrer and trying to lift him up. I couldn’t hear him saying anything. Only seconds later Shipmate fell over.”
Mr Pulford said the smell was “horrendous” and looking down he could see “two lads who were still shaking.”
Mr Pulford and Mr Bosito got hold of breathing equipment, but when he descended none of the three had pulses. They all died at Hull Royal Infirmary, despite prolonged resuscitation efforts.
He described how trying to pull the German out with a rope, he dislodged his mask and was nearly overcome himself. He said: “I am trying my hardest to push him and I am getting gases; I thought this is enough for me.”
He realised he needed to get back into the fresh air where he was “coughing and spluttering”.
Coroner Prof Paul Marks asked Mr Pulford: “It seems curious that it is universal knowledge among seamen not to go into the hold - presumably they did so to save their fallen comrades. Would that be your assessment of what happened?” “Yes,” he replied.
The court was told there was a yellow warning sign on the hatch which led down to the storeroom which was connected to the main cargo-hold by a door. There may have been less oxygen depletion, if the door had been closed.
The case continues.