Lifeboat launch drills no longer require assigned operating crew

The headline on last week's Points of View article 'Manned lifeboat launch drills no longer required' gave an erroneous impression that lifeboats may now be launched unmanned for drills. The fact is that a lifeboat may now be launched for drills "without its assigned operating crew". To avoid any confusion, we repeat the article with a revised headline and revised paragraph 6.

Two more lifeboat drill deaths and three injuries in Australia this week have brought this issue right back into focus.

The lifeboat was being lowered from the ship’s davits as part of a routine training exercise when the boat dropped thirty metres into the water, trapping the men underneath its hull as it capsized. They were rescued by a nearby naval patrol boat, but unfortunately not before two of the men had died.

How many more deaths must we see before this issue is properly addressed by all concerned? And how much more loss of life is to be caused by equipment designed to save lives?

Reducing accidents caused during lifeboat drills continues to be a high priority item for INTERTANKO.

An INTERTANKO/OCIMF/SIGTTO report on lifeboat incidents, conducted four years ago, showed that the design and construction of lifeboats and their auxiliary equipment, such as hook and hook release equipment and winch brakes, continue to play a significant part in incidents involving lifeboats. A lifeboat is designed to evacuate personnel from a ship and save lives. It is designed as a one-way use piece of equipment rather than for retrieval and re-use. Retrieval of the boat is a secondary factor almost entirely confined to the mechanics of training exercises/drills.

At the meeting of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in May this year (MSC 78) the requirement in SOLAS 1974 Chapter III, in particular Regulation 20) for members of the assigned operating crew to be on board lifeboats during training launches was removed (see Weekly NEWS No. 22 of 28 May 2004).

The full text of Regulation 19 and 20 , Resolution MSC.152(78), (adopted on 20 May 2004), Adoption of Amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, as amended , can be downloaded here.

The relevant text in paragraph 3.3.3, which formerly read:

“Except as provided in paragraphs 3.3.4 and 3.3.5 each lifeboat shall be launched, with its assigned operating crew onboard and manoeuvred in the water at least once every three months during abandon ship drill.”

has now been replaced with:

“Except as provided in paragraphs 3.3.4 and 3.3.5 each lifeboat shall be launched, and manoeuvred in the water by its assigned operating crew once every three months during abandon ship drill.”

Relevant changes to the existing paragraph 7 of Regulation 20 were also made which will in future require all lifeboats (except free-fall lifeboats) to be turned out from their stowed position without any persons onboard if weather and sea conditions so allow.

These changes in text are subtle but very important as they mean no operating crew onboard during launching.

The sooner the operational practice is amended so that it is completely in line with the latest textbook practice the better.

Contact: Howard Snaith