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Recent amendments to regulations 19 & 20 of SOLAS Chapter III drop the requirement of carrying crew in the lifeboats while they are lowered into the water. This amendment was adopted by the MSC and becomes effective in July 2006. For NZ ships, MSA (and AMSA for that matter) have taken this one step further and with immediate effect no person is allowed in the lifeboat when it is lowered into the water, however the lifeboat must still be exercised in the water as before.
This amendment has serious potential repercussions for the emergency preparedness of the crew in the event of a real emergency. The crew are no longer able to practice using the tricing pendants to bring the lifeboat alongside the embarkation deck; or release the pendants to clear the ship's side before lowering into the water. Neither can the much maligned release gear be worked in a practical exercise. Some Masters claim that they will hire a launch in port to take the crew to the lifeboat as it is suspended above the water, transfer the crew to the lifeboat and operate the release gear. Others have suggested that the crew climb down a pilot ladder into the lifeboat for the same purpose. None of these suggestions will address the issue of the practical exercise with the tricing pendants and I question the ongoing practicing of the release gear when such a great effort is required.
Although it is unacceptable that crew are injured during mandatory drills, neither should a lack of proper training, reduce the preparedness of a crew to lower lifeboats during an emergency evacuation of a ship. Anybody who has taken the time to read the accident reports will be aware that the common thread in these lifeboat accidents are the difficulties in operating the release gear and lack of training.
There are no simple or easy solutions, however we would like your feedback on this issue
In your professional opinion what do you suggest needs doing?
Read the full comment in News and Views
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We would like to hear from you, your officers and crew, as well as from your colleagues ashore.
For many years lifeboats drills have been essential in simulating the safe and speedy evacuation of a vessel in trouble, and have been carried out largely without incident, until these two recent cases.
Every seafarer has had drilled into him/her "know how to use the emergency equipment before you HAVE to use it".
The recent problems appear to lie with the quick-release gear on the end of the falls and surely this is where the solution should be sought, rather than introducing draconian legislation to deal with the situation..
The type of release gear in operation should be both upgraded and standardised.
If crew are to be left out of the boat, in our experience it should be from the stowed in-davit position down to the embarkation deck only.
It is also worth noting that the legislation makes no mention of "crash" boats on passenger and other vessels where speed of launch and get away is essential to saving persons in the water. This cannot be achieved under the terms set out by the MSA.
I was astounded to read, in News and Views, of the action of the Maritime Safety Authority and, it appears, IMO, in banning manned lifeboat training.
Ten years ago, I was involved in a major Search and Rescue which involved lowering boats - fitted with automatic release gear - in somewhat extreme weather conditions (and recovering them afterwards!). We were only able to achieve the rescue of crews from 3 yachts (2 of the operations involving boat work) because my crew were experienced in the hoisting and lowering of boats and had practiced in all types of weather.
We would not have been successful had we not had this experience. Interestingly enough we received a letter of commendation from the Director of MSA.
The proposal is preposterous and a complete nonsense.
1. I feel that NZ MSA and AMSA have gone too far by issuing orders to NOT ALLOW any person inside a lifeboat when it is being lowered to the water. I think that this should be left to the discretion of the Master.
2. Regarding rigging tricing pendants - I have not sailed with this style of lifeboat for a very long time. Not sure if these are still commonly used? For the lifeboats with which I am familiar, the crew need to remove only the gripes/lashing wires (two sets at each end) and then swing out the boat. There are no tricing pendants. In an actual emergency, the boat would be boarded whilst it is still at the top stow position.
3. The procedure which we use to test launch lifeboats is:
remove gripes/lashing wires
no one boards the boat
launch boat to water, doing brake tests on the way down
crew go down embarkation ladder or accommodation ladder and board boat
boat is taken away and engine/steering etc checked
boat returned and hooked on
boat lifted about 2 metres above water
self-release wire tested from inside the boat and boat landed back in water
if necessary, boat lifted again about one metre above water and quick release mechanism tested
all crew disembark and climb up ladder
boat retrieved with no one inside
4. For Abandon Ship drills at sea, we do two different types of drills:
(a) boarding the boat is practiced with all crew whilst the boat is still secured in it's stowed position, and the pulling of the release wire is simulated only (but not actually done).
(b) boats are swung out without anyone inside.
The above procedures work well and allows all of the required training and tests to be done safely.
5. From my observations, the problems arise after the boat has been hooked back on, as sometimes the design allows the hooks to be set incorrectly. To avoid any problems here, all crew disembark before retrieval and the boat is lifted out of the water and then given several 'drop tests' to ensure that the hooks are correctly set.
6. I fully agree that if the release gears were simpler and safer to operate we would not have to go through all of the above complications. This issue definitely needs to be addressed ASAP. However, in the meantime, these are my adaptations to ensure crew safety. I do not feel that we are compromising safety training here, as all aspects of lifeboat launching/testing are covered, perhaps not all together in one flowing sequence but certainly in all their separate parts.
7. Re 'GMDSS-like certificate' - I do not think that this is the way to go. Everyone already has so many certificates, I do not think that another one will add to safety - only to paperwork. Agree that training institutions should give intensive instruction in use of on-load release mechanisms, but there are many different designs so that in reality each time a seafarer joins a new ship s/he may need be re-trained.
The raison d'être for lifeboat drills is to train crew so that they are as well prepared as possible to use the boats in the event of an emergency. The objective of being "as well prepared as possible" can be achieved only if the training simulates the anticipated emergency conditions as closely as practicable.
The implied reason for not allowing personnel in the boats while being lowered to the water during drills is that the practise may lead to an avoidable accident. The risk of accident will be greatly increased under the stress of a real emergency. It is submitted that accident becomes almost inevitable if ill trained crew have to lower the boats under the stress of a real emergency. In other words a small risk of avoidable accident during a drill is transformed into a high probability of accident in a real emergency.
To quote from News and Views "The difficulties with the gear are two-fold: Firstly a number of approved models are too complicated and require too many actions to be safely operated" This reminds me of the situation when pilot hoists were introduced some years ago. There was one good and relatively simple design that was patented by one manufacturer. Competing manufacturers had to come up with more complex and less satisfactory designs to avoid infringing the patent rights of the original manufacturer. (Pilot hoists had inherent problems of operational safety that has led to their disappearance. Personally I refused to use them even when they were common.)
The “on load” and “off load” release gear must be standardized, more reliable
and made simpler to operate and maintain.
Training should not be neglected even if it is to be carried out with no people
in the boat.
IMO's solution to the problem is to take people out of the boats. This should
not be used by equipment manufacturer's as a signal that they need not work to
improve the safety and uniformity of the launching gear.
If more people are losing their lives by using lifeboats than are being saved by
them, it might be expedient to rely entirely on liferafts.
I believe a serious problem is one that you touched on when you said, "releasing the pendants to clear the ships side". Surely the correct method is to attach the bowsing tackles first, release the tricing pendants and after all this done then load the boat. Once loaded the bowsing tackles are eased away and disposed so that the boat can be lowered to the water. This all sounds very easy but unfortunately only done occasionally in practice. The norm is as you describe - load the boat and release the pendants. That is if you get that far. Most pendants will fail before the boat is half full causing a sudden strain on the falls, one of which often parts. Whether the pendants fail or the stenhouse slip is released the sudden jerk put on the falls is the same.
Amendments to SOLAS, which required boats to be launched with an increased negative list, was easily achieved by the naval architects by extending the davit head one or two meters. They had obviously never considered holding a 100+ person lifeboat alongside the embarkation deck when the ship is upright or with a positive list especially if the embarkation deck is directly below the davits.
The modern enclosed boat design makes it virtually impossible to make fast and release bowsing tackles. It is probably the reason that fall release mechanisms were introduced.
Lifeboats have got too big which is probably another easy option for the naval architect.
Enclosing lifeboats has probably killed more seafarers than hypothermia ever will.
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