Accidents with lifeboats are still causing injuries and deaths, a flag state and P&I club report
It all happened very quickly: an Aframax tanker was undergoing a port state control inspection during which a lifeboat engine and rudder were to be tested. While swinging it out, “the lifeboat disengaged from the aft fall hook without any warning. The lifeboat hook did not open, instead the master link pulled clear through the gate on the on-load release gear resulting in the lifeboat falling heavily.” It ended up hanging from its forward hook.
Fortunately, no one was on board at the time and no injuries were sustained, the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) reported in a safety alert issued in June this year. A link to the report, titled Unexpected release of starboard lifeboat, is provided below.
One of the first points BMA investigators made was that the boat’s “maintenance and servicing [had been] conducted in accordance with company and legislative requirements,” which underlines that even on well-maintained ships, accidents can happen. In this case, the cause was that the aft gripe wire became fouled, restricting the aft davit’s movement.
But some lifeboat accidents cannot be explained, reported the UK P&I Club in a commentary in September last year. It mentioned an incident in which a lifeboat was being stowed, with the final positioning done by hand crank. “When a crew member inserted the hand crank, [it] suddenly began to rotate and whipped around and struck the crew member in the head causing injury and hearing loss.” Investigators could not find a definite cause for the malfunction, the club said.
The commentary was published in response to an incident a few days earlier on the cruise ship Harmony of the Seas in which a lifeboat fell 10m during a lifeboat drill, killing one seafarer and injuring four others. The club quoted an analysis that found that, over a 10-year period, “incidents involving lifeboats and their launching systems had caused nearly 16 per cent of the total lives lost by merchant mariners.”
In the Harmony of the Seas accident report, published in May this year, the BMA found that the initial cause was that the boat’s forward lashing gripe had not been retracted. When the winch brake was released, the boat’s aft lowered, then the forward end broke free and the boat fell bow-first into the water.
Apart from some specific requirements, such as positive internal pressure and sprinkler systems on their lifeboats, tankers face the same safety concerns as any other ship type. Prudent operators can learn much from others’ misfortune.
• Read BMA’s Aframax safety alert via bit.ly/BMA-Alert17-14
• Read BMA’s report on the Harmony of the Seas accident via bit.ly/BMA-Harmony