Official accident report released on death of Woolwich Ferry deckhand

Accident investigators find there were “unseamanlike practices’ on board

Working practices on the Woolwich Ferry have been described as “unseamanlike” in a report on the death of a deckhand in a mooring rope accident.

“A number of unseamanlike working practices were evident on board,” the Marine Accident Investigation Branch report said.

Thames waterman Ben Woollacott, 19, from Swanley, Kent, died after falling off one of the ferries on August 3 last year.

There was a “lack of suitable oversight” of the unmooring operation carried out on the Ernest Bevin ferry on the day Mr Woollacott died, the report said.

Mr Woollacott, a sixth-generation waterman, was dragged overboard by a mooring rope while releasing lines tying the ferry to a mooring buoy. He suffered head injuries and did not regain consciousness after being rescued from the river.

The report said it was most likely that Mr Woollacott was dragged against the side of the vessel by the rope, which had become entangled in the propeller and was being wound in at more than 20mph. He suffered severe facial injuries and was almost certainly unconscious when he entered the water.

Most Read

He drowned despite his life jacket bringing him to the surface and the quick actions of his colleagues.

“It would have been very difficult for Benjamin to adopt working practices that were at variance to those followed by his more experienced and mature colleagues,” the report said.

“The unmooring operation was a routine task, but it had not been captured by the company’s safety management system.

“Consequently, no risk assessment for the operation had been conducted to assess and mitigate the hazards faced by the crew, and the very real hazard posed by the rotating propeller during the task had not been formally recognised. This was compounded by a lack of suitable oversight at the time of the accident.”