Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands publishes events that led to death on superyacht ‘Kibo’


When marine accidents occur, the subsequent investigation is meticulous – it has to be if safety lessons are to be learned and accidents avoided in future. This is clear from the report released of the investigation into an accident aboard M/Y Kibo that resulted in the death of a 22-year-old British crew member.

The investigation undertaken by the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (the flag state at the time of the accident) concluded that:

“As with most accidents, it is not possible to cite a single event or action as the ‘cause’. Rather a sequence of events and circumstances ultimately led to the accident occurring and the severity of its consequences.”

Jacob Nicol had joined the Kibo when the yacht was under construction by Abeking & Rasmussen in Germany and formally signed on as a deckhand in June 2014. Kibo was his first job working on a superyacht. He had been working on the yacht for 371 days when the accident occurred.

The 81-metre built superyacht was anchored at Portal Nous in Majorca with a party of six staying aboard when the accident occurred.

On the morning of the 3rd May 2015 while the crew were waiting for the guests to awake, they busied themselves with the typical duties required.

It was decided that it would be a good opportunity to clean the rubbing strakes (known as the rub rails) on the yachts hull about 3 metres above the waterline.

Jacob would carry out the work under the supervision of the third officer and chief officer and just after 10am he was fitted with a safety harness and attached to the bosun’s chair.

According to the accident report: “The safety harness would then be attached to a fender hook on the port side bulwark by a rope fitted with an ascender/descender device for controlling the working position of the wearer.”

Jacob “then changed into appropriate footwear for working over the side while the [third] officer checked the fender hook and rope which were already in place on the port side bulwark. The arrangement of a safety harness/bosun’s chair/support line/fender hook comprised the deckhand’s ‘means of support’ and no additional safety line was rigged.”

After approximately 50 minutes of working on the hull the chief officer witnessed the fender hook detaching from the bulwark with Jacob still attached via the rope.

Rushing over to the bulwark visual contact was made with Jacob. Acknowledging he was okay Jacob began slowly swimming towards the stern of the yacht.

With Jacob temporarily out of sight the chief officer moved to another part of the yacht and informed another deckhand to swim to the area where she had last seen Jacob.

In the 29 seconds from the chief office seeing Jacob and the other deckhand swimming to where he was last seen, Jacob had disappeared from the surface. The situation rapidly escalated into a full emergency.

The master and other crew members arrived at the scene. As scuba diving equipment was prepared several attempts were made to swim underwater to reach Jacob.

13 minutes and 23 seconds after Jacob fell into the water he was eventually brought to the surface by the master where he received medical attention. When he was transferred to the shore and moved to an ambulance a pulse was detected.

Jacob was eventually moved to the UK and remained in hospital until his death on 7th June 2017.

An inquest at Birmingham Coroner’s Court heard he died of bronchial pneumonia brought on by his immobility.

Coventry Live reported at the time: ‘Assistant coroner Emma Brown said: “’There were no visible external injuries to the head, though the brain appeared to be small.

“The cause of death was a chest infection attributed to his immobility caused by the accident which had led to a hypoxic brain injury.”’

Dr Elezar Okirie, a neurological consultant at Hunters Moor Neurological Rehabilitation Centre, said Mr Nichol had been in a “low awareness and minimal conscious state” and suffered from seizures.

The investigation undertaken by the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands indicated that:

“The most likely direct cause of the accident was that the deckhand lost his footing and fell while in the process of repositioning the fender hook.

“An MRI scan carried out at the hospital in Majorca also revealed a small fracture of the orbit of his skull. The most likely cause of this fracture is that he was hit on the head by the fender hook when he fell.”

Other factors cited by the report that contributed to the accident included:

  1. No buoyancy aid deployed when it was first seen Jacob had fallen in. With the fender hook weighing 5.5kg and still attached to him it would have taken a very strong swimmer to resist the drag. It was noted that Jacob could swim but was not the strongest of swimmers.
  2. In accordance with the yacht’s technical manual no additional separate lifeline was being used. And no lifejacket was being worn in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures. Both of these issues were said to “likely to have contributed to the seriousness of the injuries sustained in the accident.”
  3. The level of supervision, given the nature of the work, was below that required by the onboard risk assessment.

Following the accident yacht management company Y.CO conducted its own internal investigation which led to changes across its entire fleet of managed yachts. It also implemented a range of revised operating procedures and training.

As always, our thoughts and sympathies go out to Jacob’s family and friends.

View the full report here