Cayman jurors hear of death at sea

A Ukrainian seaman died while his ship was sailing between Canada and Brazil in March 2005. Last month a Coroner’s Jury was asked to determine the cause of his death.

Queen’s Coroner Grace Donalds told jurors that the law requires an inquest when any sudden death occurs within the jurisdiction. ‘In this case, the death occurred on a vessel registered in the Cayman Islands, so that counts as within the jurisdiction of the Cayman Islands.’

She indicated that the inquest had to wait until the entire file was translated from Portuguese into English after some statements first had to be translated from Russian to Portuguese.

Aleksandrs Derevjanko, 40, died several hours after falling from stairs aboard the M/V Fetish following his attendance at a crew barbecue.

After a summary of the evidence and deliberation, jurors returned a unanimous verdict of death by misadventure. The coroner explained this means accident – a lawful activity with an unexpected turn.

The coroner read statements from the ship’s captain, medical officer and various crew members about the circumstances of the fall.

Captain Josef Szanc said the barbecue had been planned two days ahead. He attended until 6.30pm and did not see Aleksandrs drink any alcohol. He said company policy was that use of drugs is strictly prohibited. A limited amount of alcohol may be consumed but crew members are not themselves allowed to bring it on board.

Other crew members said they could have one or two beers on occasion.

Captain Szanc said Aleksandrs was an excellent seaman who had no enemies and did not suffer from any illness. Training took place on a month basis with emphasis on safety in the workplace according to International Safety Management codes.

The captain and at least two witnesses said the sea and wind were calm that evening; conditions were good or normal.

Sometime after 9pm, a participant at the barbecue noticed Aleksandrs was sleeping. Then he leaned over and fell. Other men shook him and asked if he was all right and then assisted him to another crew member’s cabin and suggested he lie down. But Aleksandrs said he would rather go to his own cabin downstairs.

Minutes later they heard a noise and found him lying on the floor.

Second officer Josifs Veronko was brought to the scene. His statement said Aleksandrs was lying on his back, unconscious and bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth. No bruises were visible.

Officer Veronko called a doctor in Riga, described the symptoms and was told what to do. Around 11.30pm, Aleksandrs was still unconscious and having trouble breathing. He was turned on his side; the officer discovered a bruise in the kidney area and a lump on Aleksandrs’ forehead was now apparent.

The doctor was called again and care continued according to his directions. The swelling on Aleksandrs’ head turned purple. At 2.20am no sign of life was observed and Officer Veronko started artificial respiration. There was no reaction.

Cayman Islands Government pathologist Shravana Jyoti explained the findings of an autopsy done in Brazil. That exam had determined the cause of death was cranioencephalic trauma. Mr. Jyoti said this meant trauma to the skull and brain. The swelling was from a haemorrhage between the protective covering of the brain and inner surface of the skull.

In response to jurors’ questions, Mr. Jyoti said if there were old injuries, the pathologist’s report should have mentioned them. The finding of 3.6 grams of alcohol per litre of blood was 36 milligrams per decilitre. There are different standards, but typically a standard would be 100 to 120 milligrams per decilitre, so 36 would be within a permissible limit.

Jurors also asked about the height of the stairs from which Aleksandrs fell. The coroner passed them a photo of the stairs, estimated to be six feet.

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