Today there is no statistics on the lifeboat accidents but there are a lot of cases showing disappointing results. 32 cases of lifeboat accidents were registered according to the studies made for the period 1992-2004. People were injured or even died. Sometimes there were very serious body injury causing serious consequences or fatality. Some drifting lifeboats were picked up at sea. These boats had evidently fallen from the vessels.
Lifeboats are very important for the seafarers’ safety and rescue. There are three types of lifeboats belonging to the merchant fleet: open lifeboat, closed lifeboat and free fall lifeboat.
Open lifeboats have no roof and are usually propelled manually. However now they are rarely used because of the strict rules but they can be found on the old vessels. It’s not very useful in bad weather or rain.
The most popular type of lifeboats used on ships are closed lifeboats. It can save the crew from strong wind, sea water and bad weather. The water tightness of this type of lifeboat is higher and it can get upright even if was overturned by the waves. These lifeboats are also subdivided into fully enclosed and partially enclosed lifeboats.
The aerodynamics of the free fall lifeboat is much better than of the enclosed lifeboat, although they are a bit similar. Free fall lifeboat can get in the water without damaging the body. These boats are located at the aft of the ship and it gives a clear area for the fall.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published a review of the accidents caused by the lifeboat launching systems for a ten-year period. It was said that 10 people were injured and 7 were killed.
Lifeboat releasing mechanisms may be of two types: on load and offload. The boat is released from the davit, attached to a wire or fall with the help of a hook. After releasing the hook the lifeboat can be set free to move away from the ship.
Lack of maintenance, design failure and lack of proper training are the main reasons for the accidents. They may happen during drills and maintenance activities. Quick release mechanism failure is considered to be the most common reason of accidents.
Because of the large number of accidents with lifeboats, the IMO made new SOLAS Regulation III/1.5 and the amendments to Chapter IV of the LSA Code concerning on-load release mechanisms for new and existing passenger and cargo vessels.
Here are the current requirements for the lifeboat/rescue boat inspections and maintenance:
-Davit-launched lifeboats moved weekly from stowed position (SOLAS III/20.6.3)
-Rescue boats other than lifeboats launched monthly (SOLAS III/126.96.36.199)
-Lifeboats and rescue boats launched quarterly (SOLAS III/188.8.131.52 & .6, MSC/Circ. 1206)
– Free-fall lifeboat drill every six months (SOLAS III/184.108.40.206, MSC/Circ. 1206)
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) also advised the IMO to carry out research on the present value, need and usefulness of the lifeboats.
Peter Gartsjoe (Fleet Group Manager at Thome Ship Management PTE. LTD.):
“I still have vivid memories from lifeboat drill on a VLCC in ballast when you are dangling on two small wires 25meters down then with hooks weighing some 100kg flying over your head and trying to reconnect in what looked like “calm” sea but once down was 1 meter swell.”
In order to prevent lifeboat accidents, the crew members should ensure that the steering, the bailing mechanism and the engine of the lifeboat are functioning. Avoid over-crowding. Regularly check the davits. If any defamation or corrosion found, eliminate the malfunction.