Wastewater management practice problems highlighted by Sydney ferry fatality

The importance of properly maintaining chemical toilets onboard ship has been brought into the spotlight following an incident in February onboard a Sydney Harbour-operating passenger ferry.

A high level of toxic gas was detected in a toilet cubicle after a passenger was found unconscious in a toilet cubicle aboard the Lady Rose, She could not be revived by paramedics, and died. While the reason for her death currently remained unconfirmed, during the initial investigation HAZMAT crews detected hazardous levels of hydrogen sulphide gas In the toilet cubicle.

A New South Wales Police report stated said that several gas detection tests were conducted in a bathroom area of the vessel and were found to be in excess of safe operating levels.

Mark Beavis, managing director of ACO Marine, said that “this dreadful story serves to highlight the issues of poorly maintained chemical toilets and poor or obstructed ventilation in these small toilet cubicle spaces”, adding that some small passenger vessels do not have installed treatment systems and therefore store wastewater in holding tanks, but if these are not regularly flushed and aerated then the contents can become anaerobic and generate lethal H2S gas.”

Beavis said that one simple way of protecting passengers from the hazardous gases generated from untreated effluent would be to ensure that all bathrooms and toilet cubicles are fitted with sensors.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and New South Wales Police are continuing to investigate the incident.