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Engineer died after drinking hand sanitiser on cargo ship in English Channel

An engineer on a cargo ship died after drinking hand sanitiser – despite the best efforts of Kent paramedics to save him.

Oleksandr Palov was found to have been killed by methanol poisoning after the alarm was raised in international waters off the English coast.

A search and rescue helicopter was sent to the ship from Kent. Stock picture
A search and rescue helicopter was sent to the ship from Kent. Stock picture

An inquest into the death of the 32-year-old heard that he had been working as a fitter on the Cypriot-flagged vessel Le Havre for about two months at the time of his death on May 30.

The Ukrainian national had joined the crew on March 8 and had been assisting the engineering department during his time on board.

The coroner’s court at County Hall in Maidstone heard the crew disembarked in Hamburg on May 27, where Mr Palov bought and consumed a “significant amount” of alcohol.

When he returned to the ship drunk, he was ruled unfit for duty and sent to his cabin to recover.

Over the following two days, he was visited regularly by other crew members. However, while he was adjudged to no longer be drunk, he was still thought to be unfit to work while he suffered symptoms related to the drinking.

On May 30, when Le Havre was in the outbound shipping lane in the English Channel, approximately 14 miles off the coast of Beachy Head in Eastbourne, East Sussex, Mr Palov was heard calling for help from his cabin.

When other crew members arrived, he informed them that he had drunk hand sanitiser mixed with water and was feeling extremely unwell.

While a medically-trained crew member administered activated charcoal – a form of treatment for alcohol intake – the ship's captain radioed the mainland for advice.

However, the inquest heard that he was soon forced to radio again, this time requesting immediate aid, after Mr Palov’s breathing became laboured and he slipped into a comatose state.

The call for help was relayed to Dover, and the Kent search and rescue helicopter was deployed carrying a paramedic team to the ship. It arrived at 11.52am, just over an hour after Mr Palov was first found in his cabin – but he had already stopped breathing, and despite resuscitation efforts he was declared dead at the scene.

The inquest took place at County Hall in Maidstone
The inquest took place at County Hall in Maidstone

The inquest heard that while Mr Palov’s body was airlifted to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, the ship carried on its course and docked the same day in its namesake town of Le Havre in Northern France, where the rest of the crew were questioned by French authorities.

They found that during his time on the boat, he had been a “serious, hard-working and reserved” sailor, and was not known to have any problems with alcohol addiction – although he was not well-known enough to rule out the possibility of previous issues.

The remaining crew were said to be “confused” about the incident, and officers were unable to find any evidence of third-party involvement or intent to end his own life.

A subsequent post-mortem revealed that Mr Palov had consumed fatal levels of methanol by drinking the hand sanitiser.

Speaking to the court last week, Assistant Coroner Catherine Wood ruled his death an alcohol-related death, saying she had no evidence to support any alternative conclusions.

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