Near Death at Port Kembla

Port Kembla wharfies tell of near miss in the ship's hold

Just one hour to go on the day shift at BlueScope Steel
Patrick, Port Kembla and Jason Muscat was guiding a load of
steel in the hold of the Panamanian flagged Cos Knight, when
the wire snapped.

“It happened that quick,” he said. “I still had my hand on the slab.
There was a big bang. I looked down and saw the slab on the ground.
I looked up and saw everything coming down on top of me.”

Jason leapt a half metre between two steel slabs in the ship’s hold.
Within seconds of the ship’s crane wire snapping and the 28-tonne
steel load crashing down, the lifting beam, crane block and steel wire
came tumbling down onto where the three men had been standing.
“The beam bounced when it hit the ground and pushed against
me. Soon as I realised what was happening I thought of my family
– that I wouldn’t see them again.”

Jason’s workmate Mark Gualtieri was one of three men in the hold
alongside Jason and Zac. As everything came down on top of them
he jumped out of the way falling on his right side between the steel
load over the two pieces of dunnage.

“I saw it all come down,” he said. “I knew the wire had snapped. I was
lying on an angle. The beam was bouncing towards me. It clipped my
boots, still bouncing. I was saying the “F” word to myself.”

Panic set in.

“I ripped my feet out and tried to lie as flat as possible. In shock or
panic I went to dig into the steel. I had my head around watching the
beam bounce, thinking please don’t roll anymore. I had no energy to
stand or move. I knew couldn’t roll out. There wasn’t much of a deep
gap for me. If it had come closer I would have been crushed.”

Then everything went quiet.

“I was lying there thinking ‘Where’s the hook and wire? Is it still

Mark looked over and saw the hook and wires lying in the hold.
He looked up. The crane was violently shaking from front to back.
Crane operator Graeme Daly had a bird’s eye view of what

“We just lifted a slab in from the wharf over the side of the ship
around 20 metres high into the hold of hatch one. I landed that
one safely,’ said Graeme. “But another slab in the hold needed to
be restacked. The gang put chains around it and waved me up.
That’s when the wire snapped.”

“I gotta say, in change room that day, for some reason I thought
something was going to happen. I don’t know if it was sixth sense
or what.

“I was just sitting in the crane. The crane shaking, wire flapping
around the window. If that wire hits you you’re gone. It can cut
you in half.”

The foreman Joe yelled out to Graeme to come down.

“When I looked down I couldn’t see anyone,” he said. “Everyone
thought the worst. Joe couldn’t look over the edge. Then I saw
two of the guys standing. I was yelling out ‘you all right?”
Jason picked himself off the ground. “I was in shock. Shaking
badly. I turned and felt myself. I was looking at the other bloke
out of my corner of my eye. He’d fallen backwards. I thought he
was crushed. But luckily he was all right too.”

“Jason thought I was dead – crushed,” said Mark. “That the beam
had hit me. Zac and he came running over asking if I was okay.
Someone yelled ‘Get the fuck out! Climb out, get out.’”
Mark jumped up. “Shit, I’m alright. I’m alive.”

He climbed up the spiral ladder out of the hatch. His shoulder
starting to hurt.

“I’m just lucky the pain didn’t set in for a while so I could get up
the ladder,” he said.

Graeme came down out of the crane and hugged the three men.
“Then I went into shock. I’m usually down below. I might not have
been so lucky. I thought about my wife and two boys,” he said.

“The steel wire alone could have sliced them in half,” said Branch
Secretary Garry Keane. “Had the workers been taking another
lift from the wharf, the wire could have snapped with the load
25 metres up and there would have been little chance of anyone
escaping alive.”

“These men should rush out and buy themselves a lottery ticket.
How they are still with us is a miracle,” said MUA National
Secretary Paddy Crumlin. “It’s just another wake up call that we
need a national safety code on our wharves, including full ship
inspections before job start.

This accident also points to the acute need for the government to introduce
measures it’s considering to revitalise Australian shipping to see that Australian
ships and crew predominantly service our coastal trade. The alternative is these flag
of convenience ships, often ships of shame, destroying our environment and threatening
workers lives.”

When Mark got out of the hatch he started laughing.
“I knew how close it was. It was just inches
away from getting killed. We were very, very
fortunate. I was laughing. Joking. Because I
was alive and I was happy.”

“It happened but we all hobbled away,” he
said. “No one got crushed, no one got killed.”
The Panamanian flag of convenience vessel
Cos Knight, is just one of many frequenting
the port.

“These ships, they’re substandard you
know,” said Graeme. “We work to Australian
standards, we hop on these ships and
they’re rust buckets, floating pieces of junk.
We’re working in a third world factory.
We don’t know where the crew come from
or what qualifications they have. We can’t
communicate with them very well.

“The ship’s crane didn’t look any worse than
any other,” he said. “We’re just lucky to be

All loading stopped and the ship sat idle
three or four days. The cranes were fixed
and inspected. Then Graeme came back
to finish the load. He was one of the gang
working down the hold.

“I had to work in the same hatch,” he said.
“I was a bit tentative. It’s happened four
times now over the years – the crane wire
snapping. The guy checking the wire can
only check 75 per cent. You can’t get to it
all. I’m pretty cautious on the job. We’re
here to work not die. It will happen again.”
Jason is back at sit down duties in the office.
He’s done a ligament in his knee.

“For about a week I had nightmares.
Couldn’t sleep. Kept breaking out in a
sweat. Everyone was sending messages. But
I just felt I wanted to be with my family.
The kids were in tears when they saw me on
crutches. I wasn’t going to tell the family
what happened but they saw it on TV.”

Mark Gualtieri has multiple injuries head to
toe. His right shoulder is not that good. A
cartilage tear which will need surgery.
“I’m not sleeping much at all,” he said. “I
still wake up with my shoulders in pain.”
“It’s affected me,” said Graeme. “The other
night I dreamt a coil of crane wire was
chasing me around the hatch. I was running
trying to dodge it.”

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,”
said Jason. “There’s danger everywhere.
That first few weeks I thought I’d never get
on a ship again. I just thank God, I’m alive.”