This short article about a loss of life during a swing rope operation was originally published in my March 2015 newsletter. A discussion about “paper captains” on the gCaptain forum, resulted in me remembering it. Since it is summarised from an actual USCG report names are included.


It seems to be one of those things that accidents in the marine world get a lot more coverage than good news. Of course shipowners produce press releases which are for the most part extremely boring, except for those for passenger ships, which offer all that stuff which amaze us. How did they get a climbing wall onto a ship? And so on.

So it’s back to the accidents again, and in the offshore business again, about an accident in the Gulf of Mexico which occurred on 16thFebruary 2011. I have chosen it because it sheds some light on the very unusual business that the offshore oil industry is, and to an extent on how the U.S Coast Guard view ship command.

This is an article about people using a “swing rope”. Actually the report calls it a rope swing, which it is, but I’m going to stick to the former title. So one of the things which go on in the Gulf of Mexico is the maintenance of unmanned platforms by groups of workers who are housed either on shore if the platform is very close to the beach, or on a platform in the vicinity of the worksite which is provided with living quarters. The men are transported to the worksite either by helicopter, or else by what is known as the “field boat” which is either a small supply ship or a crew boat. And now we get to the nubb of the business 

If a boat is used for the transport the workers have to transfer from the platform to the deck, or the other way round, by stepping across, just as you would to get in a rowing boat on the local boating lake (In my case the one in the Retiro, the park in the centre of Madrid). But the small ship, of what ever sort is held in position by the man at the controls, and the people step across, holding onto the “swing rope” which is intended according to some, to provide a safety system. It is not, apparently, something one holds onto to swing across a gap between the ships and the platform deck.

Having said this we go back to February 13th 2011 when the field boat, the Starfleet Patriot, was delivering a group of workers to an unmanned platform. The deck which the men were attempting to access was about ten feet above the sea – yes - the “Plus Ten Deck”, and the deck of the ship was about five feet above the sea. The seaman on the deck hooked the swing rope with a boat hook and handed it to the first man who was to get onto the platform. On the controls of the Starfleet Patriot was Captain Cameron Hudson, the  Mate of the ship. He was apparently designated as Captain because that was how he was qualified, but he was not actually the Captain. The Captain was Byron Trosclair.

The disembarkation process was difficult because not only was the Plus Ten Deck five feet above the level of the deck, the ship was kept about five feet away from the plaform, so that it was necessary for the workforce to grab the swing rope, and take a leap across, swinging upwards to get onto the catwalk. It was difficult to do this and the guys going to work kept asking for the ship to be moved closer. The ship was not moved closer.

On the morning of 14thFebruary the Starfleet Patriotwas again tasked with the job of taking workers from the accommodation platform to the work platform, and once more the workers asked the man on the cortrols who was again Captain Hudson to move the ship closer and again the ship was not moved closer. So the guys going to work were being asked to swing across a gap with the sea a few feet below them, and did it virtually under protest, which one could understand. They had signed up to weld, pipe fit, clean and paint, not to engage in some sort of Tarzan act.

So the next morning during the same disembarkation process a man called Joseph Bruno complained to the master of the ship, Captain Byron Trosclair, that he lacked upper body strength and that he needed the ship to be closer to the catwalk, because he did not feel safe swinging across. Captain Trosclair said that he did not want to damage the tyres and chains of the ship. But on the evening of 15thFebruary, apparently in response to the complaints from the workers, the oil company Dynamic/Apache had a higher platform known as a “swing platform” or “jump platform” installed on the ship (the names say it all really), which is a plaform three or four feet above the deck intended to make the transfer easier.

So we get to February 16th2011. The sea was choppy with waves of one or two feet, and once more Captain Hudson was at the controls, which just for those who are not familiar, will have been at the after end of the wheelhouse overlooking the afterdeck and at the stern was the swing platform. Next to the man driving, overlooking the afterdeck was the master, Captain Trosclair. A number of the workforce made the transfer and then it came to Mr Bruno’s turn. He climbed up onto the swing platform but had difficulty holding onto the rope, and apparently it was obvious that he was afraid to make the jump. So he signalled to the man on the controls to back up closer to the platform, as did other workers who were still to make the transfer However the ship was not moved closer. Mr Bruno attempted the swing and fell into the sea.

Thereafter the Starfleet Patriotdrifted about 80 feet downwind while the casualty was recovered. He had been in the water for about 30 minutes, and it was found, when he was pulled out of the water, that he had died. 

As it turned out Mr Bruno had died of a heart attack, but nevertheless the US Coast Guard took Captain Trosclair to court to have his marine licence revoked for firstly, not conducting a proper transfer operation, (when it had been time to take the body of Mr Bruno ashore the ship had easily been put alongside the platform), and secondly even though the ship had conducted training in the use of its “man overboard platform”, no attempt had been made to carry out a rescue. 

Despite his defence which was that when he was not on the controls he was not the master, and that when Mr Bruno fell into the water the guys on the platform had shouted over to the ship that they would rescue him, the court found that Trosclair had been the master, being in overall charge and that it was an unassailable requirement that a ship, from which someone had fallen overboard, was required to attempt a rescue. 

What an amazing number of questions this accident raises to those who are looking at it from the outside, rather than being used to the process, as workers in the GOM  obviously are. Why should any workers be required to hazard themselves on their way to do the job? How could two people on the same ship be called “Captain”? Was there no-one in charge on behalf of the owners of the platform? And finally, how is it that the whole process has not been investigated by the BSEE, who had recorded it as a fatality in 2011? 

Copyright © 2019 Ships and Oil. All Right Reserved.