Weakened hardware and improperly secured sling caused lifeboat drill accident

An accidental free-fall lifeboat release in December 2020 in English Bay, British Columbia, Canada, was caused by weakened hardware and an improperly secured lifeboat sling Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has found. The incident left two crewmembers seriously injured.

On December 1st 2020 the crew on bulk carrier Blue Bosporus (IMO 9370185) were implementing a free-fall lifeboat drill at Anchorage 12 in English Bay, British Columbia. The wire rope slings holding the lifeboat failed and it fell approximately 14 metres into the water. There were two crew members in the lifeboat at the time, both of whom were seriously injured. The forward starboard side of the lifeboat’s hull was damaged. There was no pollution. (IMN December 8th 2020).

In an investigation report published on Tuesday June 21st the TSB noted that the slings holding the lifeboat failed and that the two crew members inside the lifeboat were unsecured at the time. The forward starboard side of the lifeboat’s hull sustained damage.

The investigation found that the crimp sleeves on the Blue Bosporus’s lifeboat slings had weakened over time as a result of intergranular stress-corrosion cracking.

“The manner in which the slings were attached to the hooks on the lifeboat davit caused the load to concentrate on the right rear sling. This, in combination with the weakened crimp sleeves, caused the failure of the slings and a bracket on the lifeboat.”

The TSB observed that “without a complete procedure for conducting a drill that involved launching the lifeboat using the davit, the crew had developed an informal practice that did not address the risk of standing unsecured in the lifeboat, which led to the serious injury of two crew members when the lifeboat fell”.

Because the slings were integral to the safety of occupants inside the lifeboat during drills, the TSB said that it was “critical that Apollonia Lines SA have maintenance routines, replacement schedules, and documentation in place to verify the slings’ adequacy”.

Although Apollonia Lines S.A. had regular maintenance routines in place to verify the condition of the lifeboat and its launching appliances, the checklists for these routines did not prompt the crew to check specifically the condition of the slings. The lifeboat davit and launching appliances had last been inspected and tested – by a lifeboat service company approved by the classification society – in November 2020, a month before the occurrence. However, the checklist used during this inspection did not prompt a visual inspection of the slings, and the small cracks in the crimp sleeves went unidentified. In addition, during the dynamic load testing of the lifeboat in drydock, the slings were correctly attached to the hooks, so there was no shock load acting on any individual sling.

“In the absence of any international guidance requiring free-fall lifeboat slings to be verified periodically, inspected before use, and marked with a safe working load, there is a risk that this critical equipment will be overlooked during inspections or its safe limits will be exceeded, leading to an accident”, TSB said.

Because supervision was provided by an officer who had limited prior involvement in lifeboat drills on the Blue Bosporus and whose attention was divided between his own tasks and those of two other crew members, opportunities to identify hazards that affected the safety of the drill were reduced. The incorrect configuration of the aft starboard sling in the hook, the precarious position of one of the able seafarers, and the risk of being unsecured inside the lifeboat all went unnoticed.

“If supervisors are required to take an active role during safety critical tasks such as lifeboat drills, their attention will be divided and they will be less able to attend to all aspects of the task, increasing the risk that safety critical items will not be identified in time to prevent an accident”, said the TSB.

The TSB observed that “while there are international requirements for inspections of lifeboat lifting appliances and associated components, they do not clearly address slings associated with free-fall lifeboats. In the absence of any international guidance requiring free-fall lifeboat slings to be verified periodically, inspected before use and marked with a safe working load, there is a risk that this critical equipment will be overlooked during inspections or its safe limits will be exceeded, leading to an accident”.

After the accident Apollonia Lines SA:

  • replaced the failed sling assembly, including the failed lifting brackets, with a newly manufactured, load tested, and certified sling assembly and brackets;
  • included the lifeboat sling assembly in the Blue Bosporus’s wires and ropes inspection log;
  • sent safety management system circular 05/2020 to all vessels operating under Apollonia lines S.A. the day after the accident. This circular requested that an extra safety meeting be carried out with all crew participating in order to update them on the occurrence and avoid a recurrence.

2008-built, Panama-flagged, 41,668 gt Blue Bosporus is owned by Falcon Shipbuilding Inc care of manager Apollonia Lines SA of Athens, Greece. At the time it was entered with London Club on behalf of Falcon Shipholding Ltd. It is currently entered with Gard on behalf of Falcon Shipholding Inc. As of June 24th it was at anchor in Dzen Djen Anchorage off Algeria.

https://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/marine/2020/m20p0353/m20p0353.html