Two young men died when they left a gas cooker grill on to heat their boat

A safety bulletin has been issued to warn boat owners about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning following two deaths in North Yorkshire.

Two fishermen died in their bunks on board the 9.95m scallop-dredger Eshcol while staying overnight in Whitby, North Yorkshire on 15 January 2014.

Initial findings from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) indicate that the men were poisoned by carbon monoxide.

Before going to bed, the skipper (aged 26) and the crewman (aged 21) had lit the grill of a butane gas cooker fitted in the wheelhouse in order to warm both the wheelhouse and the adjacent sleeping area.

When they were not seen as expected the following morning, crewmen from fishing vessels tied up close by forced open the wheelhouse door.

The gas grill was still lit and the wheelhouse was full of fumes; the two men were dead in their bunks.

Eshcol was not fitted with a carbon monoxide alarm.

Safety Issues

1.   Gas cookers are designed for cooking, not domestic heating. Accommodation areas need to be heated, especially during the winter months and, for this, appropriate, purpose built heaters are required.

2.   Fossil fuel burning appliances, such as cookers, need to be checked and maintained to ensure they are in good condition. A yellow flame indicates poor combustion, resulting in an excess of carbon monoxide that, in a poorly ventilated space, can quickly build up to lethal levels.

3.   Carbon monoxide is a lethal gas, which has no smell, no taste, is colourless and is extremely difficult for human senses to detect. Crew need to be vigilant and recognise the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, which can include: headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, confusion, stomach pain and shortage of breath.

4.   Carbon monoxide alarms are not expensive and should be fitted. When selecting a carbon monoxide alarm, preference should be given to those marked as meeting safety standard EN 50291-2:2010, which are intended for use in a marine environment.

Click here for more detailed advice on how to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and on carbon monoxide alarms.

The MAIB is carrying out an investigation into the two deaths and will publish a full report in due course.

Pictures: The 9.95m scallop-dredger Eshcol; The grill of a butane gas cooker fitted in the wheelhouse; The gas grill still lit. Credit: MAIB