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Old 02-06-2019, 09:50 PM   #1
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Hydrogen Sulphide Ferry Death

I`ve heard of people exiting a toilet and helpfully suggesting to the next in line "Give it 5 minutes mate", but this is different. Here`s a news report to set the scene:
https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/...05-p50vpo.html.
So far investigations continue but a ferry carrying up to 475 pax could generate considerable quantities of sewage onboard. Especially depending on frequency of pumpout.
I recall a cruise ship where walking the promenade deck at one spot was seriously unpleasant due to odor.
We have many threads about tank odors leading to discussing the origin, but this is serious. No one ever raised this level of trouble but, could it happen, has it happened, on a recreational boat?
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Old 02-06-2019, 11:01 PM   #2
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I don't recall any incidents involving recreational boats, but I do remember when a several 100-gallon black water tank on a cruise ship (can't remember which cruise line) failed putting sewage several inches deep in that bilge compartment. Crew members ordered to do the repairs and cleanup weren't given adequate HAZMAT protective gear/clothing...two died, two or three more were hospitalized in critical condition, but lived.


Anaerobic decomposition generates hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen sulfide, both of which can be lethal. Anaerobic decomposition also generates methane, which is odorless, but can also kill (think: sticking your head into a gas oven to commit suicide) and is flammable.



Fortunately, odor will drive most people out of a confined boat cabin before the gasses can kill 'em...unlike carbon monoxide (CO), which is odorless and has been responsible for many deaths on recreational boats.



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Old 02-06-2019, 11:46 PM   #3
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Some days are like that. You barely survive using the totality of your cunning and gall, only to fatally succumb to a whiff of sewer gas.
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Old 02-07-2019, 12:41 AM   #4
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For those of you that do a lot of fishing and have a large refrigerated space for holding your catch, it's important to properly clean and sanitize.

Several years ago a tuna boat finished unloading their catch in San Diego on a Friday afternoon. The crew covered the hold and decided to clean the hold after the weekend. Monday the hatch was opened and one of the crew went into the hold. He immediately collapsed. Other thought he's had a heart attack. A second man went down and also collapsed. And then a third. By then the captain became involved and called rescue. As I remember it was from decomposing fish residue and the hold no longer being refrigerated. It can happen in a small area and the first breath can knock you out. Just sticking your head into a big uncleaned cooler could be dangerous.
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Old 02-07-2019, 12:56 AM   #5
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Another recent thread referred to "olfactory fatigue",whereby after a while the odor ceases to be smelt. I had heard of it previously in accident cases.
In this case it must have been a potent concentration,and the news report raises maintenance questions, in the face of prior reports. Boats usually empty their holding tanks at the cruise ferry dock as required, no lack of pump out facilities.I doubt it`s overflow, more a problem with the system, or how it works. Or perhaps, doesn`t work.
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Old 02-07-2019, 04:12 AM   #6
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The news article says reports/complaints by crew (staff) for a year. I smell negligence, maybe gross negligence.
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Old 02-07-2019, 06:14 AM   #7
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The news article says reports/complaints by crew (staff) for a year. I smell negligence, maybe gross negligence.

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Old 02-07-2019, 06:25 AM   #8
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Crazy. I think I recall reading that in the days of square-riggers, the French navy (and perhaps others) essentially used the bilge as a black water tank. I think they also carried the corpses of crewmen home in the bilge, to be buried in consecrated ground vs burial at sea. If true, it makes you wonder why their ships didn’t explode the first time somebody lit a pipe below decks.
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Old 02-07-2019, 08:28 AM   #9
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I recall seeing a TV program where they talked about taking oxygen masks with them, and air quality sensors, any time they went into enclosed sections of a hull. Likewise folks going down into sewer, cave, mine or septic systems. Bad air collects in places and by the time you realize it (if you do at all) you're likely at a point where you're unable to escape before suffocating. I'd think reviving you after such exposure would be more difficult too. That and the added delay of hauling you out of the space.

I had a close call when I made the mistake of trying to add too much blue tank treatment via the toilet (old boat, terrible tank setup, gave up and bought a new boat). I just barely made it back out to clear air. Got quite a scare.
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Old 02-07-2019, 09:44 AM   #10
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There have been lots of incidents on ships and it seems to go in waves once every ten years
A couple on a over night ferry died in their sleep when the toilet vented sewage gas into their suite.
2 People entered a sewage tank for and inspection. The tank had been tested for H/S gas and checked out as ok.
It still had 1>2 inches of waste liquid in the tank and once entering the tank they stirred up the waste and it flashed off the gas. One took a face plant and died, the second made it to the hatch and dropped ; he was pulled out by a spotter and suffered permanent brain damage.

As far as these Harbor cruisers "down under" it not out of the normal that they have problems with gases .I have smelled the same with cruisers in Hawaii, Caribbean and the Med. They are working on the bottom line as a business and fixing the problem cuts into their profit.

They say "we have a certified unit so we are good". "No worries"
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Old 02-07-2019, 02:01 PM   #11
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Yes, hydrogen sulphide is bad stuff.
Being heavier than air, it collects in bilges or any low lying area. Good ventilation is the key in a boat. Ensure your black water tank vent filter isn't blocked. You may be better off without one.
The safe exposure limit for H2S has recently been lowered to from 10ppm to 1ppm. 1000 ppm will kill you fairly quickly. It stops respiration at a cellular level so vital organs shut down. It also causes loss of smell at about 200 ppm, so a person may think the problem has disappeared.

I've worked on natural gas wells in Canada which flowed 40% H2S (400,000 ppm). I don't miss working with full breathing apparatus in -40 deg temperatures.
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Old 02-07-2019, 02:22 PM   #12
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I had typed an entirely inaccurate reply. Regrets. Back to the H2S conversation....
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Old 02-22-2019, 01:33 PM   #13
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If I was the owner of the boat I would claim she committed suicide by farting........
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Old 02-22-2019, 04:57 PM   #14
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Apparently there was a modification to put the black water out through the exhaust. Whether it caused the issue is still under investigation.
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Old 02-22-2019, 05:07 PM   #15
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Interesting that so little will kill your ability to smell it. I was in Alaska 60 years ago in a barracks that had a sewer problem and was under 4 feet of snow. Was asleep when we had a surprise inspection and the IG walked in. His first statement was, "Airman, what is that stink?" I answered, "What stink?" He looked at me like I was crazy!! I guess, looking back, I came close to dying?? Didnt know that till just now.
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Old 02-22-2019, 08:32 PM   #16
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Apparently there was a modification to put the black water out through the exhaust. Whether it caused the issue is still under investigation.

That idea was first introduced in RVs in the '70s...it had a few drawbacks. It was highly damaging to the newly required catalytic converters and didn't do mufflers any good either, but the worst problem was the horrendous odor out the tailpipe. Imagine following an RV so equipped up and over a long mountainous road. It kinda lay dormant till the '90s when a couple of Italians or Spaniards decided it was the answer to sewage management on boats. They went broke in a hurry because they failed to find out that it only worked in dry exhausts...wet exhausts don't get hot enough. Fast forward to 2011 and a gizmo called the ZLD. It won all kinds of innovation awards and then vanished. I was supprised to see that its website is still up and running. So it could very well be the technology the ferry was trying use. The ZLD


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Old 02-22-2019, 09:57 PM   #17
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15 years ago I owned a 1972 Travoy Motor home with that system on it. When I read the manual on it I made the decision that I would NEVER follow an RV, ever again....LOL
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Old 02-23-2019, 04:53 AM   #18
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Back in the early 80s I had a 70s motorhome. Had the operator's manual but not the sewage incinerator system. Thinking that nothing is 100%, had no interest in the system. Where does it go? Not all of it goes. Until this thread I never really thought about poison gas production. Might have swayed my opinion. Never know when you might need to take out a small town.


The water heater tied to the main engine was a great feature. Park it, bonus hot water. Always need to wash your hands.
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Old 02-23-2019, 06:57 AM   #19
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... one of the crew went into the hold. He immediately collapsed... A second man went down and also collapsed. And then a third.
Yeah that sounds like the tent we setup in our backyard as kids after my brother had been eating grapes all day. My buddy actually threw up from the hydrogen sulfide or whatever gas was coming from my bro's butthole that night.
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