Annals of Safety: Controversy Over Lifeboat Safety Continues

Expect further changes to IMO?s LSA Code.

By Wendy Laursen 2013-05-22 09:20:00

Photo: Schat-Harding's newest lifeboat model, the FF1200, set a new world record of 55 meters for a free-fall drop.

Over the last few years fatalities have occurred during lifeboat drills on the Thomson Majesty, Volendam, Tombarra, CMA CGM Christophe Colombe, Ocean Ambassador and Anna Maersk. IMO is tackling the problem. Changes to the IMO Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code came into effect this year to ensure that unsafe hooks are replaced over the next few years. Additionally, IMO is moving to make the recommended maintenance measures defined in Circular 1206 Revision 1 mandatory.

“The hooks are lethal”

Some seafarers are still not satisfied. “The hooks are lethal,” says a chief engineer on a chemical tanker. “Vessels are never still. The difference between 50,000 to 150,000-ton vessels and 5 to 10-ton lifeboats results in constant movement. Trying to connect those two huge masses using fragile fingers is an absolute absurdity nowadays.”

Another seafarer from an LNG carrier asks: “If all the hooks and lifeboats are as good as manufacturers are saying, why do we have fall preventers? Why do we have all these safety devices, which only add to the complexity of the equipment, its operation, and maintenance?” And another complains of the lack of standardized equipment: “We move from one vessel to the other, and therefore our training is wasted.”

The chief officer of a chemical tanker says: “The new design of the hooks is nothing new at all. Designs are usually 100 years old. Lifeboats became enclosed, and today’s health and safety requires seafarers to wear a lifejacket, helmet, very often escape sets, and immersion suits. This all makes a person’s mobility very, very difficult. This is even more compounded by the size of the hatch people are supposed to operate when operating hooks.”

Improving User-Friendliness

David Torres, Vice President for Sales at lifeboat manufacturer Schat-Harding, agrees that requirements have made some activities that seafarers are expected to undertake cumbersome. “It seems like the shipping industry is trying to deal with all the survival scenarios at the same time. The majority of Life-Saving Appliance OEMs haven’t moved at the same pace as requirements for survival at sea. They have placed the emphasis on compliance of the equipment rather than on the user-friendliness of the equipment, and it all comes down to what the end-user is willing to pay for and what priority shipyards place on lifesaving equipment when building a vessel.”

As an example, Schat-Harding’s latest model lifeboat, the FF1200, was designed as a result of extensive and direct discussions with end-users such as Statoil. The new design addresses issues such as requirements for training, technical requirements for hooks, and the size of the hatch in lifeboats for accessing the hooks. While it may be more expensive than some options, Torres has been shocked by the low standard of some of the equipment he has seen on vessels around the world.

Harry Klaverstijn, Chairman of the Life-Saving Appliance Manufacturers’ Association’s Technical Committee, cites some figures on the number of lives saved by lifeboats in recent years as a reminder of the benefits of lifeboats to the industry:

2005 – 226 lives saved
2006 – 224 lives saved
2007 – 2,702 lives saved
2008 – 1,279 lives saved
2009 – 283 lives saved
2010 – unknown
2011 – 1,671 lives saved
2012 – >3,500 lives saved.

“So any claim that lifeboats kill more people than they save is unfounded and has more to do with scaremongering than with actual facts. LSA equipment should be treated with respect. It could be your last lifeline to safety. However, the tendency is that there is more expectance on performance than respect.”

Addressing the Human Element

IMO is working on the issue of how to address the human element in the use of lifesaving equipment and how to maintain the practicality of lifeboat requirements through the development of goal-based standards. The work being carried out by the Subcommittee on Ship Design & Equipment covers such things as how to ensure that equipment is easy to use and operate in an emergency and how to ensure standardized methods of operation. The LSA Code is therefore expected to change again. – MarEx 

Wendy Laursen writes frequently for both the MarEx newsletter and The Maritime Executive magazine.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.