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Report: Fatal Lifeboat Accident Caused by Damaged Release Cable

shell
The Auger platform and its lifeboat embarkation deck, bottom center (Shell)

Published Dec 20, 2021 5:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued its final report into the fatal lifeboat accident that occurred aboard Shell's Auger platform in 2019. The inquiry concluded that a degraded release cable - which had previously been identified by service technicians - was the primary root cause of the casualty. 

On June 30, 2019, the crew of the Auger platform was conducting their quarterly lifeboat launch and retrieval drill. At about 1000 hours, they began recovering lifeboat number 6, a motor-enclosed lifeboat with a dual fall davit system with on-load release hooks fore and aft. As they winched it back to the embarkation platform, the aft quick-release hook on the lifeboat opened. Suspended by the forward hook alone, the lifeboat swung like a pendulum away from the platform until the forward hook gave way as well. The boat fell 80 feet into the water, and two people who were still on board were killed. A third person who was in the process of getting out of the lifeboat was injured in the fall. 

Less than a month before the accident, service personnel inspected Auger's lifeboats and noted "corrosion and damage to the aft hook release cable" inside the lifeboat. According to the Coast Guard's investigators, the damaged cable could prevent the aft hook from locking properly, allowing it to accidentally open and release the aft end of the lifeboat of its own accord. Post-accident testing by investigators and engineering experts determined that the damaged cable created an unsafe condition. 

In a service report after the inspection, the technicians commented "recommend hook release cables." However, the lead service engineer "did not recognize the severity of the hazard," the Coast Guard found. His report summary recommended that Auger's lifeboat systems were in "correct working order at this time of service" and advised the operator to "return boats back to service and made ready for use." 

Shell's representatives at Auger said that they recalled no further conversations about the matter with the technicians, and the cable for the aft hook release was not replaced. The boat remained in service until the day of the fatal accident. 

On that day, when the crew cycled the hooks during the lifeboat drill to test their functionality, they may have unknowingly put stress on the damaged cable. When they went to reset the hooks and hoist the boat, the damaged cable interfered with the aft hook's securing mechanism, which remained in an "almost open" position. This was closed far enough for the hook to support the weight of the boat during hoisting, but when the boat contacted the bumpers of the embarkation platform, it came open and released. 

The final report calls for instituting regular inspection and replacement schedules for lifeboat hook control cables, along with a requirement for the Coast Guard to review the entire lifeboat / release mechanism system during the design approval phase.