UK P&I comments on safety drill tragedies

After news that a second crewman had died as a result of a safety drill on a cruise ship that went wrong* UK P&I Club observed that a study in 2014 by a UK safety group, using accumulated data over a 10-year period, indicated that incidents involving lifeboats and their launching systems had caused nearly 16% of the total lives lost by merchant mariners. “Even more survived lifeboat incidents but suffered severe injuries of the spine and lower extremities”, the Club said.

UK P&I noted that, as the design of lifeboats has progressed, the requirement to understand the mechanics of launching operations has become more complicated.

UK Club Loss Prevention Risk Assessor Captain Anuj Velankar said that in the mid-nineties it was already becoming clear that seamen were developing a distrust of lifeboats. Velankar said that merchant ships such as tankers and bulk carriers were progressively losing touch with the maintenance of wires and ropes, due to lack of routine.He said that release mechanisms were often very poorly understood on ships today and that this was leading to increasing detentions and delays for shipowners.

UK Club noted that it has previously dealt with an incident involving a release mechanism of a safety hook which opened without any physical action by the crew. The boat fell more than eight metres to the water, injuring three crewmembers in the ankles, legs and spine. The investigation discovered that, when the hoisting wire became kinked on the drum, the mass force of that action caused the hook to release without any contact by a crew member. The recommendation was to replace such safety hooks with a modified version which included a safety lock pin.

The complexity of modern lifeboat mechanisms are such that some incidents that occur simply cannot be explained. A lifeboat drill injury recently occurred when a boat was being raised by a winch to within a foot or two of being in the fully stowed

position. The winch was automatically programmed to stop at this point, as the rest of the stowing was done by use of a hand crank on deck. All mechanisms were working properly, but when a crew member inserted the hand crank to fully stow the boat, the hand crank suddenly began to rotate and whipped around and struck the crew member in the head. causing injury and hearing loss. There was no brake malfunction and the incident could not be duplicated in further testing. There was corrosion on the electrical panel and some improper fuses in place, but the investigation was inconclusive as to the cause of the hand crank failure.

The entire crew should be capable of operating lifeboat systems and understanding the mechanics and procedures even with minimum training or experience.

Communication between the crew during drills must be clear, with confirmed completion of each step throughout the exercise.

When the design of the lifeboat launch system and its components are complicated, Members should consistently train on the operation, repair and maintenance of the entire lifeboat system. If necessary, require that the manufacturer supply easy to understand instructions and diagrams to explain the proper operation or create a common operating procedure safety manual independent of the manufacturer instructions.

*Ben Buenaventura, of the Philippines, who had been in the intensive care unit of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, died as a result of injuries sustained on July 20th during a safety drill on the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship. On September 12th one crewmember died and four were injured when a lifeboat fell from Harmony Of The Seas – the world’s largest cruise liner, which was docked in Marseille at the time.