Good news on lifeboat safety, a potential conflict of terms over the past two decades, comes in dribs and drabs but movement, while glacial, there appears to be. In late February the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment agreed on draft guidelines to ensure release mechanisms for lifeboats are replaced with those complying with new, stricter safety standards.
The draft Guidelines will be submitted for approval to the Maritime Safety Committee in May, alongside the anticipated adoption of amendments to the International Life-Saving Appliances Code, LSA, and the recommendation on testing of LSA, which requires safer design of on-load release mechanisms, as well as a related draft amendment to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS, chapter III Life-saving appliances, which will require lifeboat on-load release mechanisms not complying with the new LSA Code requirements to be replaced no later than the next scheduled dry-docking of the ship following entry into force of the SOLAS amendments.
The sub-committee recommends that administrations and shipowners be strongly urged to use the guidelines to evaluate existing lifeboat on-load release mechanisms at the earliest available opportunity, in advance of the entry into force of the new SOLAS and LSA Code amendments.
The Sub-Committee also agreed draft amendments to the Revised recommendation on testing of life-saving appliances concerning test procedures for lifeboat hooks, for adoption by MSC 87.
Measures already adopted or approved, to address the prevention of accidents involving lifeboats, include:
- May 2004: MSC 78 adopts amendments to SOLAS chapter III Regulation 19 (Emergency training and drills) and Regulation 20 (Operational readiness, maintenance and inspections), concerning the conditions in which lifeboat emergency training and drills should be conducted, which introduce changes to the operational tests to be conducted during weekly and monthly inspections, so as not to require the assigned crew to be on board in all cases (the amendments entered into force on 1 July 2006);
- May 2006: MSC 81 approves guidelines to implement the 2004 SOLAS amendments: Guidelines for periodic servicing and maintenance of lifeboats, launching appliances and on-load release gear and Guidelines on safety during abandon ship drills using lifeboats (MSC.1/Circ.1206; while MSC.1/Circ.1206/Rev.1, issued in 2009, updated the guidelines);
- December 2006: MSC 82 amends SOLAS regulation III/220.127.116.11 concerning provisions for the launch of free-fall lifeboats during abandon-ship drills, to allow, during such drills, for the lifeboat to either be free-fall launched with only the required operating crew on board, or lowered into the water by means of the secondary means of launching without the operating crew on board, and then manoeuvred in the water by the operating crew. Also, the LSA Code is amended to require safer design of on-load release mechanisms (hooks) of lifeboats (the amendments to SOLAS and the LSA Code entered into force on 1 July 2008);
- May 2008: MSC 84 approves Interim recommendation on conditions for authorization of service providers for lifeboats, launching appliances and on-load release gear (MSC.1/Circ.1277); and
- June 2009: MSC 86 approves Guidelines for the fitting and use of fall preventer devices (MSC.1/Circ.1327).
These, of course, welcome improvements but it really is time to rethink the whole concept of lifeboats.