Aluminium Phosphate Pellets – The Case Of The Tablets Of Love

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March 1, 2009

industrial-pillsPhoto by wheatfields

Known in some countries as ‘tablet of love’, aluminium phosphate pellets used for fumigation aboard ship represent a significant hazard to sefarers.  As the latest Maritime Accident Casebook podcast warns, those hazards may be hidden and unexpected.

Based on a report from the UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch, The Case Of The Tablets Of Love concerns the death of a Polish seafarer in his cabin aboard a vessel carrying feed wheat from Kaliningrad, Russia, to Montrose, Scotland. The wheat had been fumigated using aluminium phosphide tablets which generated toxic phosphine gas.

Says writer and narrator Bob Couttie: “How the gas got into the cabin undetected was something of a mystery. Several tests failed to find out how it happened. Forensic toxicologists regard the characteristics of aluminium phosphide make it a poor choice for homicide because it is almost impossible to administer it without the victim’s knowledge.”

“Phosphine’s characteristic smell should have alerted the victim and other crewmembers but it was masked by the small of seasickness. The symptoms of poisoning by phosphineare very obvious but they are very similar to the symptoms of sickness so the victim wasn’t aware of being poisoned because he was seasick and feeling ill.  All it took was corrosion and a rough sea  to turn the victim’s cabin into a gas chamber”.

While a series of unforeseen circumstances led to the seafarer’s death it was still avoidable. Says Couttie: “A fumigated cargo should be regarded as a dangerous cargo. Hazards, especially those that might be created by the design of the ship, must be identified and there must be scheduled, regular testing on voyaje.”

Like all MAC podcasts, The Case Of The Tablets Of Love reveals the circumstances around a real event through an audio podcast and online materials available for free at the Maritime Accident Casebook website,

As with the preceding episodes, the podcast is backed by an illustrated online transcript that seafarers can read, discuss and share with their crewmates and other seafarers. Those with training and safety responsibilities can use the broadcasts and the transcripts freely.

Maritime Accident Casebook, MAC, is a unique, free, informal educational resource, supported by donations, for seafarers and maritime trainers which seeks to empower seafarers through knowledge to keep themselves alive and their ships safe.  Using audio podcasts that can be played on any computer, MP3 Player or MP3-capable cellphone and online downloadable hard-copy transcripts, MAC encourages seafarers to discuss lessons learned from real-life events and apply them to their own vessels and working practices to create a safety-conscious community.

The Maritime Accident Casebook: LINK


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