Lifeboats “need to be reinvented”, maritime safety group claims

Seafarers have been suffering avoidable injuries when launching lifeboats, according to the Container Ship Safety Forum (CSSF). “Over the years, many seafarers have been injured – some of them fatally – while launching the lifeboat during evacuations or evacuation drills. Not because the lifeboats have not been compliant with safety standards, but simply because the launch of a lifeboat is a dangerous task to perform”, the CSSF said.

The group is calling for the total reinvention of lifeboats on board cargo vessels. “Lifeboats are an essential part of crew safety onboard every vessel, but seafarers are way too often getting injured when launching the lifeboat”, CSSF said.

CSSF chairman Aslak Ross said that able seafarers were suffering injuries when launching lifeboats even though the crews had been trained and the lifeboat was modern and fully compliant. “Everyone knows we have a problem; seafarers are scared to launch lifeboats; however, no one has offered a plausible path towards a solution to the problem for cargo vessels. A change is needed to provide a safe environment for seafarers and to regain trust in lifesaving equipment”, Ross said.

“Simulation and use of new technology is one way to conduct drills in a safer environment, and we support the intent to reduce the risk of accidents, however, it does not solve the core of the problem: Launching a lifeboat is too dangerous. And even though simulation has its advantages, it should only be used as a supplement to well-conducted onboard abandon ship drills where crews are familiarized with the ship specific equipment,” Ross said.

The CSSF wants the industry, classification societies, flag states and suppliers to launch innovation to replace current lifeboats with a safer technology. Ross noted that alternative designs were already available for offshore installations and for passenger evacuation on passenger vessels through Marine Evacuation Systems (MES) and the like.

“Such systems should also be made available to cargo vessels without delay. It is long overdue to change the current environment and innovate to eliminate the risk of lifeboat accidents. We need approved systems that can be fitted to newbuilds – we need to safeguard our seafarers,” Ross said.