City of Glasgow College is pioneering an innovative online training course with the potential to save lives on board ships

A 90-MINUTE online training course that could save lives at sea is being pioneered by City of Glasgow College. Around 12 people die each year following oxygen depletion in enclosed spaces such as cargo holds and chain lockers on board ships.

“It is an issue that has been known about for decades and yet accidents still regularly occur,” explains Chris Keenan, City of Glasgow College Associate Dean (Mechanical Engineering).

“Where our research differs from anything that has gone before is in its investigation of the rate oxygen depletes. We demonstrate it is significantly faster than previously thought. For the first time, we can give clear numbers of just how fast a dangerous space is created.”


The aims of the new course, developed by the STEM and Innovation team at City of Glasgow College, are to improve safety standards, enhance the knowledge of seafarers worldwide and ultimately prevent the loss of life. The team received funding from the Maritime Education Foundation to develop a new, innovative programme of blended learning. The course has recently been published on an open online platform and includes 90-minutes of video content.

The work is part of a wider programme led by consultant marine engineer Daniel Burke (former principal of Cork College in Ireland) and Dr Manhal Alnasser, City of Glasgow College – pictured right –  lecturer in professional maritime engineering. The research has recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Marine Engineering and Technology.

The problem can be caused by many cargoes, including rusting steel and wood, coal and grains, which have oxygen depleting properties.

Recent tragedies include the deaths of four port workers and a paramedic, who entered the cargo hold of the aggregates carrier Sumiei shortly after it docked at Banjarmasin Port in Indonesia last February. All died from a lack of oxygen.

In March 2015, aboard the bulk carrier Sally Ann C, the ship’s chief officer entered a cargo hold storing a supply of sawn timber. He collapsed, and when the chief engineer entered to rescue him, he also succumbed. Both men fell into a coma within 40 seconds and died within three minutes.


Dr Manhal Alnasser, City of Glasgow College

“Human instinct plays a part – when you see someone collapse, you automatically rush to their aid, and in both these cases that action has led to further deaths,” explains Mr Keenan.

“The course aims to raise awareness of the dangers. We want our young seafarers, regardless of the vessel type they work on, to understand that a situation which may look safe, is not.

“It is an invisible danger – oxygen depletion has no smell, no alarm, to warn people off. It’s not like rushing to someone’s aid in a fire, when it is obvious what has happened. In an enclosed space, you will be unaware you are not breathing oxygen, because you will still be able to take a breath. We want to make sure seafarers have the knowledge and awareness they need to avoid putting their lives at risk.”

Dr Alnasser adds: “It is also important to point out that oxygen depletion does not just apply to maritime spaces, it can occur in any enclosed space, at sea or on dry land.

“We have also researched adjacent spaces and found that when the levels reduce in a particular space such as a cargo hold, it can also affect adjacent stairwells and passageways. It is really alarming, and the course includes real life examples to demonstrate the dangers to students.”

The research being carried out by City of Glasgow College is driving education, with potential implications for the wider industry in the future. Mr Keenan explains: “Where we would expect more experienced seafarers to pass on their knowledge to new recruits, we are taking a bottom-up approach, ensuring that those who are very new into the industry learn from the beginning. Further down the line, we hope the research will inform the way ships are designed, for example; the way that cargo holds are drained; even changes to guidelines surrounding how and when someone can enter an area.

“It’s also about teaching young seafarers, who are perhaps in a situation where English is not widely spoken or where a strong health and safety background is lacking, to stand up for themselves – to ensure that a space has been properly risk-assessed and deemed habitable before they are asked to enter it.”

The City of Glasgow College team is proud of the high quality research produced through the project. “Colleges tend not to be associated with this level of research and publication, so it has been an extremely prestigious and rewarding project for us to be involved in,” adds Dr Alnasser.

“We took the project from early stage methodology, involving basic manometers and modes made of pipes, to bespoke equipment and high-level sensory technology to ensure accuracy.”

The online programme will now be rolled out via online learning platform Udemy in a bid to reach a wider audience.
“Through a combination of videos, animation and slides, people can learn what they need to know about the rates of oxygen depletion in enclosed spaces, and how to enter those spaces safely,” adds Mr Keenan.

“It is freely accessible to all and, ultimately, this is an invaluable 90-minute course that could save your life.”