Several months, at least, will pass before investigation into the Volendam tragedy in which a 29 year old Indonesian drowned when a cable parted in port Lyttleton, Christchurch can be completed and it would be very unwise to speculate on specifics. Nevertheless even the sparse information so far available presents lessons regarding lifeboat safety management worth learning regardless of whether they actually applied in this individual case.
The issue of seafarers not wearing lifejackets, or even wearing inadequate lifejackets is one we are very familiar with. In this case neither man working on the lifeboat wore a lifejacket. Work of this nature is working over the side and lifejacket should always be worn regardless of what other safety measures are in place.
A lifejacket is a seafarer’s last resort if all else fails.
Current statements by Christchurch police suggest that the two men were wearing harnesses. A harness is not a replacement for a lifejacket, the lifejacket is worn in case the harness fails when working over the side.
Harnesses do not work if they are not attached, or attached inappropriately, as in the case of the seafarers who attached their harnesses to scaffolding which was unsafe instead of to an appropriate part of the ship’s structure.
Fall Preventer Device, FPD
FPDs not not replace lifejackets or, necessarily harnesses. They are the first line of defence. Sadly, fall preventers are not yet mandatory under SOLAS when carrying out maintenance or drills but should be. Although IMO guidance, MSC.1/circ1327, on the use of fall preventers was intended to overcome problems with on-load release hooks commonsense tells us the guideline should be in use whenever personnel are on a lifeboat whether for drills or maintenance.
Compliance vs Safety
Do not confuse compliance with safety. We too frequently see instances where mandatory rules have been complied with yet basic safety sense has been absence.
One must comply, but not die while complying. Compliance is not an excuse for unsafe working.