Lifeboats are an essential part of crew safety on board every vessel, but seafarers are way too often getting injured when launching them. The Container Ship Safety Forum (CSSF) now calls for a reinvention of the lifeboat on board cargo vessels.

Over the years, many seafarers have been injured – some of them fatally – while launching the lifeboat during evacuations or evacuation drills. Not because the lifeboats have not been compliant with safety standards, but simply because the launch of a lifeboat is a dangerous task to perform.

According to the CSSF, the past years the focus has been on compliance and training instead of on how to improve the lifeboat itself.

‘We need to reinvent the lifeboat and its launching equipment on board cargo vessels,’ says Aslak Ross, Chairman of the CSSF. ‘For way too long, we have seen able seafarers being injured when launching lifeboats even though crews have been trained and the lifeboat is modern and fully compliant. Everyone knows we have a problem; seafarers are scared to launch lifeboats; however, no one has offered a plausible path towards a solution to the problem for cargo vessels. A change is needed to provide a safe environment for seafarers and to regain trust in lifesaving equipment.’

Also read: Unstable lifeboat rolls over in calm water

Known problem

In 2017, the UK Chamber of Shipping issued an article “Lifeboat drills: We need to save lives, not lose them” in which they identified sixty fatalities during testing of lifeboats over a ten-year period. In the article, it was stated that simulation training could improve safety.

Ross: ‘Simulation and use of new technology is one way to conduct drills in a safer environment, and we support the intent to reduce the risk of accidents, however, it does not solve the core of the problem: Launching a lifeboat is too dangerous. And even though simulation has its advantages, it should only be used as a supplement to well-conducted onboard abandon ship drills where crews are familiarised with the ship specific equipment.’

Also read: Fatal fall from stern mounted lifeboat davit

Towards safer technology

In the so-called hierarchy of controls – a five-level system widely used in industries to minimise or eliminate exposure to hazards – training is on the second lowest level to minimise risks, while removing and replacing the hazards are considered the two most effective actions to eliminate risks.

Therefore, the CSSF encourages the industry, classification societies, flag states and suppliers to launch innovation to replace current lifeboats with a safer technology. Alternative designs are already available for offshore installations and for passenger evacuation on PAX vessels through Marine Evacuation Systems (MES) and the like.

‘Such systems should also be made available to cargo vessels without delay. It is long overdue to change the current environment and innovate to eliminate the risk of lifeboat accidents. We need approved systems that can be fitted to newbuildings – we need to safeguard our seafarers,’ concludes Ross.

Also read: LR machine learning tech reveals that main cause of lifeboat accidents is failing equipment