Proposals expected to be put to IMO delegates over the next few months will aim to set guidelines to give lifeboats adequate ventilation to prevent overheating and ensure polar waters operation
Heat and cold can both create problems in lifeboats. When the container ship MOL Comfort broke its back and sank in June 2013, all its crew escaped in a fully enclosed lifeboat and were rescued little more than an hour later. Yet even by then, the boat’s interior had become “extremely hot and many crew members experienced the discomfort of seasickness,” stated the accident report by the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA), the flag state.
Due to the weather conditions, all the entry doors were shut, “rendering the boat a closed and under-ventilated box containing 26 persons,” the report said. The International Life-Saving Appliance Code “contains no provisions regarding thermal comfort” and, although it includes a ventilation provision for partially enclosed lifeboats, “the absence of specific ventilation provisions may be a weakness in the requirements for totally enclosed lifeboats,” the BMA suggested.
The ship’s builder, operator and class society are based in Japan, where the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism set up a Committee on Large Container Ship Safety to prepare a report. The Bahamas and Japan subsequently carried out some joint research and found that, with 25 people in an enclosed lifeboat, in less than 10 minutes CO2 levels almost trebled and oxygen levels fell.
They took their concerns about lifeboat ventilation to the 97th meeting of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee last November. They submitted a lengthy report on their research, and the topic was passed to the fourth meeting of IMO’s Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) sub-committee in March. That meeting established a correspondence group to explore the problem.
One of those contributing to that group is International Chamber of Shipping marine director John Murray, who co-ordinates the informal Industry Lifeboat Group (ILG), which includes many shipowner organisations among its members. He told Tanker Shipping & Trade in mid-August that an important part of the discussion centred on whether lifeboat atmospheres should be improved by forced or passive ventilation.
In their research, the BMA and Japan assumed it should be forced ventilation. But Mr Murray believes passive ventilation would be better – a view he said was supported by some manufacturers. He argued that forced ventilation requires power and electronics that must remain reliable in a hostile environment for years until needed.
Mr Murray also has views on how the ventilation requirements should be defined. While some involved in the correspondence believe it should be expressed in terms of air changes per hour, “we support a more general statement about ‘breathable air’,” he said. This might be incorporated by specifying limits on CO2 and oxygen levels, which he said is more in line with IMO’s approach to goal-based standards.
The correspondence group is also looking at proposals from Canada, submitted to SSE 4, calling for amendments to IMO’s Life-Saving Appliance Code “to provide a habitable environment in liferafts and lifeboats in polar conditions.”
The paper said that “rescue in polar waters could take five or more days to happen. This … highlights the importance of having adequate survival equipment on which the survivors rely while awaiting rescue.” Norway and Japan submitted papers on similar topics, and one possible outcome mentioned in IMO’s meeting summary is a new chapter in the LSA Code to address this.
As tankers represent a large proportion of the ships that operate in polar regions, any changes to lifeboat requirements for cold regions will have an impact on them, Mr Murray agreed. But he pointed out that passenger ships will also be affected. Mr Murray is concerned about the weight implications of requiring more equipment on lifeboats, and suggested that there may be other ways to tackle Canada’s concerns, perhaps by addressing the time for rescue to arrive. “The LSA itself might not be the only way of dealing with the problem,” he said.
ILG has tabled a specific concern to the correspondence group’s chairman about the risk of water trapped within a lifeboat’s structure. This stems from a fatal accident in 2011 in Bristol, UK, when a rescue boat fell from the car carrier Tombarra while it was being recovered after a drill.
One of the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s findings was that the boat was significantly overweight due to water ingress into its buoyancy foam, from which it could not drain. If this were to happen with lifeboats in Arctic waters, that water could freeze and fracture the boat’s hull, Mr Murray said. “So far the chairman has not picked up on that,” he added.
The correspondence group is due to report to SSE 5 (in March 2018), at which IMO members can comment on its findings.
• Read MAIB’s report on the weight of Tombarra’s lifeboat.