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Lifeboat drill – near casualty

An incident has been brought to IMCA’s attention in which a lifeboat was accidently dropped into the sea. The incident occurred during a lifeboat drill at sea in good weather conditions. The starboard lifeboat was lowered to the embarkation deck. In this operation the top link of the forward chain for the connection between the davit floating block and the hook on the lifeboat parted, such that the entire load of the lifeboat was transferred to the aft hook/chain. As the aft chain could not withstand this weight, it parted and the lifeboat was dropped into the sea. At the time of the incident no crew members were onboard the lifeboat and thus there were no injuries. However, the lifeboat itself was considered a total loss due to extensive damage caused by the fall.

As lifeboats are often the primary method of evacuation from many vessels, the importance of maintaining the lifeboats to the highest standard cannot be over-emphasised. This safety flash highlights the importance of thorough inspection and maintenance of lifeboats and their associated launching equipment.

Sequence of images illustrating the equipment failure
Sequence of images illustrating the equipment failure

Following investigation, the following probable cause of the incident was identified:

  • It is likely that the top link of the forward chain parted due to corrosion or damage of the welding of the link such that the load was no longer distributed to both sides of the link. As the links/chain were painted it was probably difficult to detect the fracture that had developed over time.

The following lessons, applicable to all vessels using chain links as part of the load transmission from the davit or davit block to the lifeboat hook, were drawn from the incident:

  • Chains should be replaced at regular intervals and/or tested by DPI/Ultrasonic testing at regular intervals to eliminate/detect parts with potential risk (although not required by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)), and this should then be included in the vessel maintenance system;
  • The lifeboat chain, hooks and release system should be inspected and maintained according to manufacturers’ recommendations, and should be included in the vessel maintenance system;
  • It is recommended that lifeboats are lowered without personnel onboard and boarding then carried out after the boat has been lowered, unless the boat is to be used for an emergency situation as directed by the master.

The following actions were taken:

  • Identification and inspection of all lifeboat equipment using chain links as part of the load transmission from davit or davit block to lifeboat hook;
  • Review of adequacy of inspection level and frequency as part of planned maintenance routines.

Safety Event

Published: 16 September 2011
Download: IMCA SF 10/11

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