Union Calls for "Radical" Review of Lifeboat Systems

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By MarEx 2016-09-14 21:29:21

Seafarer's union Nautilus International called for a "radical" rethinking of lifeboat systems and drills following the latest fatal accident involving the inadvertent drop of a boat into the water.

In Tuesday’s accident, one crewmember was killed and four others injured on the cruise ship Harmony of the Seas in Marseilles harbor. The men were participating in a boat drill when their lifeboat fell 10 meters into the water below. The cause of the accident is under investigation. 

"The dangers associated with lifeboat drills are well known, and there is now extensive evidence to show the scale of fatalities arising from accidents. In the light of this, Nautilus has consistently advised members not to be in lifeboats when they are being raised or lowered, unless strops are in place," said Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson.

"This is an issue that we have raised directly with companies and at the International Maritime Organisation, and we believe there is a need for much more concerted action to address issues and design shortcomings," he said. "It is appalling that the industry seems incapable of solving this problem [and] it is high time that we had some radical thinking about the whole concept of lifeboats and to examine the potential of alternative evacuation systems."

In a reflection of the tragic continuation of lifeboat drill casualties, Dickinson’s words of condolence for those affected echoed those that Nautilus issued in the wake of another accident, years ago – the death of five seafarers on the cruise ship Thompson Majesty in 2013. In that incident, a fall wire reportedly failed, sending the lifeboat falling 50 feet down into the sea below. 

In Marseilles, prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said Wednesday that investigators are focusing on human error as the probable cause of the Harmony of the Seas accident and have not detected any signs of hardware failure. 

Royal Caribbean told French media Wednesday that two of the four injured men have been released from the hospital. Two others were said to have been critically injured in the fall. 

The newly built Harmony of the Seas is the world's largest cruise ship at more than 200,000 grt and capacity for 5,500 passengers. Her size (and the size of her sister ships) necessitated the development of record-setting 44-ton lifeboats, each capable of accommodating 370 passengers.